Tourism maintained a steady share of Israel’s economy prior to COVID-19, and in 2019 directly accounted for 2.6% of GDP In 2019, a peak year for inbound tourism, direct tourism employment was estimated at approximately 149 900 jobs, or 3.8% of total employment. It is estimated that direct tourism jobs fell to 108 174 in 2021, while tourism’s share of GDP fell to 1.1%.

International tourist arrivals fell 81.7% to 832 000 tourists in 2020. In 2021, this fell further to 397 000 arrivals, 91.3% below pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, the top source markets were the United States (37.5% of inbound travellers), France (10.6%) and the United Kingdom (8.1%).

Domestic tourism generally accounts for just over half of total tourism expenditure. Domestic tourists declined 52.2% to 3.9 million tourists in 2020 but fully recovered in 2021, with a record 8.6 million domestic tourists and 18.4 million domestic nights. Domestic tourism expenditure was ILS 20.4 million in 2021, 83% of total tourism expenditure in 2021.

Despite the recovery in domestic tourism, overall pre-COVID travel levels are not expected to return until 2023-24 after Israel fully opened its borders in May 2022.

The Ministry of Tourism is the national government entity responsible for steering tourism policy and the sector. The Ministry continuously engages with all parts of the tourism sector, putting particular emphasis on emergency support programmes for hotels and inbound tour operators and preparing SMEs for the recovery of domestic and inbound tourism. The Ministry co-operates with other relevant ministries, authorities and agencies on an ad-hoc basis and within the framework of joint steering committees.

Large local authorities usually have tourism policies co-ordinated with national policy, particularly in relation to domestic and inbound marketing activities. Smaller, mainly rural authorities, tend to cluster into regional tourism destination management organisations (DMOs) to develop more coherent products and enable more effective branding and marketing policies. The Ministry has a continuous working relationship with regional DMOs and tourism departments and co-ordinates marketing, product development and regional branding. The Ministry also assists local authorities in tourism development research and feasibility studies, especially for infrastructure development and zoning. The Ministry organises professional coaching and training programmes in product development and marketing for SMEs, with the active participation of regional DMOs.

The total tourism budget for 2022 is ILS 825 million, up from ILS 380 million in 2020 but still down from ILS 1.2 billion in 2018. The tourism budget is split into three areas of activity:

  • Development of accommodation through grants to hotels (investment amounting to ILS 100 million in 2020-21, expected to increase to ILS 175 million in 2022).

  • Development of public tourism infrastructure (ILS 180 million in 2020 and ILS 350 million in 2022).

Marketing (ILS 100 million in 2020-21 and expected to be ILS 200 million in 2022) In addition, ILS 90 million is used by the Ministry for various needs such as planning strategy, administration of the Ministry’s employees, and industry training.

The Ministry of Tourism is in the process of updating its 2030 strategy in light of COVID-19. An updated set of 2030 targets and intermediate objectives for 2022-25 are being formulated.

The Ministry is developing new sub-products in rural areas, alongside Wine Tourism and Adventure Tourism, focusing on programmes that will bring a more diverse and customised product. Current activities are based on the understanding that tourists are looking for more sustainable products in the open air and outside cities.

The Ministries of Tourism, Health, Foreign Affairs and Transportation helped co-ordinate tourism-related policy and action during the pandemic. Upon the outbreak of COVID-19, the Ministry of Tourism liaised with the Ministry of Health to maximise the potential for resuming and expanding tourism activities.

In 2021, a pilot for inbound tourist groups was initiated in co-ordination with the Airport Authorities and the Ministries of Health and Transportation. This allowed a small number of fully vaccinated tourist groups to enter Israel and tour the country. This programme was cancelled after all limitations were lifted in March 2022.

The Ministry is in continued contact with other relevant Ministries and the tourism sector for contingency planning, should COVID-19 or other sources of danger require the reintroduction of limitations. The Ministry is also part of the Israeli Governmental preparedness planning for future health and safety threats, including earthquake and other emergency mitigation and response planning.

The Ministry of Tourism has now redefined its goals for crisis management, recovery, and activity to include:

  • Preservation of infrastructure and human capital: the Ministry has invested in developing public tourism infrastructure and increasing the supply of accommodation in Israel, aided by additional investment from other public bodies and the private sector. To minimise the damage to infrastructure and protect the tourism workforce throughout the pandemic, the Ministry allocated funding for assistance to hotels, guided tours, increasing domestic tourism, assisting inbound tour operators, marketing activities abroad, business support and working to open up international routes for tourists.

  • Preparation for recovery from the crisis and return of inbound tourism: the Ministry is executing its action plans for a speedy recovery of inbound tourism traffic. The plan includes action on three levels: 1) increasing demand among potential target audiences abroad by planning online and digital campaigns and strengthening PR operations, 2) developing marketing channels with agents and wholesalers abroad and with online travel agencies, and 3) restoring collaborations with airlines and encouraging them to open new routes. The Ministry has also introduced a joint recruitment platform, backed by a marketing plan, with the hotel sector and Israel Airport Authority. The objective is to alleviate the acute human capital shortages at airports and hotels.

  • Development and improvement of tourist products for the well-being of the tourist: activities include the development of public tourism infrastructure to generate tourism traffic, encouraging new and diversified tourist accommodation, promoting the improvement of maintenance at tourist sites, promoting strategic plans for tourism and building new and diverse tourism products.

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