One of the amazing things about Israel is that it attracts a huge amount of incredibly diverse tourists. People from across the world come to see Israel’s historical sites and learn more about the country’s rich history.
In 2016 close to 3 million tourists came to visit Israel and tourism hit an all-time high in September to December 2016 with 250,000 tourists arriving in the country.
According to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, the majority of visitors to the country are Christians. They tend to flock to Israel around Christmas and Easter time to visit holy Christian sites and pray. Not far behind are Jewish tourists who come to visit the Old City, meet family and generally see the country.
Unsurprisingly the most visited site in Israel is the Kotel (the Western Wall) and it is followed by the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Surprisingly though, the most visited paid tourist site in Israel has nothing to do with religion. It is the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, which continues to attract close to a million visitors a year (and is a great place for a day out!).
The Zoo is followed by Masada, the site of the Roman siege but then third on the list is the Ramat Gan zoo. Tourists also seem to like visiting the Roman ruins in Caesarea, the Hermon National Park, Ein Gedi National Park, the aquarium in Eilat and various other national parks.
Most of the visitors to Israel come from the United States, 2016 saw around 672,100 Americans come on holiday to Israel. Along way behind in second place is France with 293,000 and then Russia with 284,600. The rest of the top ten is made up of the UK, Germany, Ukraine, Italy, China, Canada and Poland.
Unsurprisingly tourism is big business in Israel and a major contributor to the country’s economy. In 2010 tourism constituted 6.4% of the country’s GDP and the World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that real GDP growth for tourism in Israel is expected to average 5% per year over the years 2010 to 2020. By 2020 it is thought that tourism will contribute $22.1 billion to the economy, or 7.2% of GDP and already tourism has created close to a quarter of a million jobs in Israel.
Unfortunately, tourism is the first industry to be hit whenever conflict occurs in Israel. Thankfully though, over the past few years it has been steadily increasing, even with the occasional war. New hotels are being built around the country, more and more work is being done by the Ministry of Tourism to bring more visitors to Israel, and it appears to be working.
An added benefit to tourism is that it can make the cities, such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, feel like truly international destinations. Walking around you get to hear a number of languages and it is common to have conversations with people from all over the world when sitting in cafes or bars.