Recent reports about the demise of tourism in Eilat are greatly exaggerated, according to town leaders. While the government – including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself – has in recent days said that Eilat’s economy could collapse unless a casino is established there, a view endorsed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, figures from the ministry itself show that Eilat’s economy has never been better.
That’s a message Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzchak Halevi sought to emphasize in an interview with Channel Ten. “We are very disappointed that officials are bandying about this idea that Eilat is ‘collapsing’ or ‘dying,’” he said. “We do not oppose any project to enhance tourism, but to turn us into a ‘basket case’ is just insulting and upsetting.”
Recent figures released by the Tourism Ministry and the Central Bureau of Statistics show that tourism was up in 2015 by 12 percent over the numbers in 2014. Eilat earned NIS 1.88 billion ($490 million) in tourism income last year, with over a billion shekels of that sum coming from foreign tourists. Hotels were 70 percent full on average in both years as well, better than the average 66 percent in previous years, such as 2005 and 2007, which were considered “good” years. In addition, tax records show that tax collection was up 7 percent over the past three years compared to the previous period. “That figure more than any shows that we are not ‘collapsing,’” said Halevi.
More investors are interested in Eilat than ever – not because of talk about a casino, but because of the construction of the new international airport near the city. Not only is tourism strong, said Halevi – test scores show that the city’s schools are educating students in an above-average manner, and a strong cultural scene, with international events scheduled on a regular basis, contribute to that. To improve tourism even more, said Halevi, “we need to reduce bureaucracy, such as making it easier to build hotels. Certainly we welcome positive change and all the help we can get – but it mustn’t come from a place that makes us appear as a city under siege,” he added.