Over 3.5 Million Tourists Visit Israel in 2017

An El Al aircraft is seen at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Reuters/Nir Elias/File Photo)

Over 3.5 million tourists visited Israel in 2017, the Tourism Ministry said in its end-of-year roundup. Foreign tourism in 2017 was up 25 percent over the number in 2016 — and tourists contributed NIS 20 billion (nearly $6 billion) to the Israeli economy.

The United States contributed the largest number of tourists to the country in 2017; 700,000 of the 3.6 million tourists that visited Israel during the year were Americans, 21 percent more than the number who visited in 2016. In second place was Russia, with 307,000 tourists hailing from there — an increase of 26 percent over the numbers who visited in 2016. Ministry officials attributed the strong growth in Russian tourism to the new low-cost carriers serving Israel, and to ongoing political feuds between Russia and Turkey, where Russian tourists had until recently been a fixture.

France was the third-largest source for tourism, with 284,000 French citizens visiting Israel in 2017, 8 percent more than in 2016. France was followed by Germany, with 202,000 tourists (34 percent more than in 2016), and the United Kingdom, from where 185,000 tourists hailed (10 percent more than in 2016).

Other countries with large numbers of tourists visiting Israel were Ukraine, from where 137,000 tourists visited, along with China (105,000), Italy (93,000), Poland, (85,000), and Canada (75,000). Notable was the fact that 59 percent of tourists who came to Israel in 2017 had never been here before, the Ministry said. A quarter of visitors said that their primary interest in visiting Israel was religious, while 23 percent said they came to tour and visit. An additional 24 percent said that their main purpose was to visit friends or relatives, while 11 percent said their primary focus was on business. Thirty percent of tourists came on group tours, 64 percent came on their own, and 6 percent as members of a group in a package deal that included visits to other destinations, along with Israel.

The average tourist spent $1,600 on their visit, or an average of $162 per tourist per day. Of the total spent, $617 was on hotel or accommodations, $245 on transportation and tours, $200 on food, and $168 on souvenirs. Yerushalayim was the most popular destination, with 78 percent of all tourists spending time there. Yerushalayim was followed by Tel Aviv, visited by 67 percent of tourists. 40 percent went to the Dead Sea, 35 percent to Tiberias and the Kinneret area, and 35 percent to other areas of the Galilee.

Tourism Ministry Yariv Levin said that “the all-time record in tourism we experienced in 2017 is the result of a clear policy. The half million more tourists who came in 2017 over the previous year are a half million more ambassadors, and this is an important contribution to strengthening Israel’s stance in the world.”