JERUSALEM — While many destinations in the Middle East took a hit in tourist arrivals last year, Israel has reported a near 4% increase over 2015, setting a new record.
A total of 2.9 million tourist entries were recorded in 2016, with the United States representing the largest country of origin for incoming tourism to Israel. From the U.S., 648,310 tourists arrived in 2016, 5% more than 2016 and 8% more than in 2014.
The period between September through December 2016 saw a record number of incoming tourists. The countries which registered the most significant increase in the number of tourist entries as opposed to the previous year were: China (+69%); Croatia (+62%); Belarus, Latvia and Georgia (+41%), Malaysia (+35%) and the Philippines (+ 27%). The USA and Russia continue to lead in the numbers of incoming tourists, followed by France, UK, Germany and Ukraine.
This increase is largely attributed to a strategic shift in marketing as well as an increase in marketing dollars. The marketing program adopted by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin focused on creating demand in Israel tourism by building sub-brands suited to different target markets, such as India and China. The Tourism Ministry also promoted collaborations with major OTAs like Expedia and TripAdvisor, offered passenger incentives and opened new routes into Ben Gurion airport.
In addition to the marketing campaigns, Hainan Airlines, the largest private airline in China, opened a new route into Israel and one can see an increase of tens of percent in tourism traffic. The expenditure of the Chinese tourist in Israel is the largest of all countries, injecting revenue into the local economy. For the first time this year, a tourism campaign ran in India, gaining millions of views. According to Google, the exposure to the campaign promoting tourism to Israel came close to the exposure of the campaign for the Pepsi drinks brand.