2017 record tourism year for Israel – the report card

January 3, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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2017 was a record year for incoming tourism, with about 3.6 million tourists and NIS 20 billion revenue from incoming tourism alone.

The resort city of Eilat in southern Israel. Credit: Dr. Avishai Teicher/PikiWiki Israel.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said:  “The all-time record number of tourists visiting Israel this year is no accident; it is the result of a clear policy. The actions taken by my ministry since I took up my position have brought Israel an unprecedented record in incoming tourism. The number of tourists visiting Israel increased by 700,000, setting a new record for incoming tourism to Israel and adding NIS 20 billion to the economy.”

Not scoring high for tourists were Israel’s taxis and public toilets and value for money.

In the first half of the year, 11% increase in bed nights in tourist hotels in Israel compared to the same period last year

Increase in number of weekly flights into Eilat as a result of Tourism Ministry subsidies – more than 50 weekly flights into Ovdah

18 routes opened from new destination into Ben Gurion Airport with financial support from Tourism Ministry, including Hainan Airlines, Lot, Ryanair, Wizz Air and WOW.

New route opened from Shanghai and 46% increase in tourism from China on last year (139% on 2015)

91% of tourists ranked their visit to Israel as very good or excellent.

Tourism Statistics in first half of 2017**

Leading source countries for incoming tourism:

USA, Russia, France, Germany and UK

Most visited sites (in descending order):

Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Dead Sea, Tiberias, Sea of Galilee area and Galilee

Breakdown of incoming tourism by religion: 54% Christian (25% visited as pilgrims), 21.7% Jewish and rest other religions or non-affiliated

41% of tourists had already visited Israel

29.8% visited as part of an organised group

63% stays in hotel or holiday village as opposed to 56% last year

7% stayed in rented accommodation

Satisfaction with visit to Israel – very good to almost excellent (4.3 out of 5) Services receiving particularly high scores: Tour guides (4.5), archeological sites (4.4)

Director General of the Ministry of Tourism, Amir Halevi added: “Having broken the all-time record in tourism as a result of innovative and creative marketing activities, we have begun to make changes in the organisational structure of the ministry, with the aim of adapting it to the new tourism market, with an emphasis on the digital space and developing niche tourism markets such as sport, culinary and more. We have also worked to improve the tourism infrastructure, with the guiding principle being first of all the maintenance and cleanliness of existing sites. We are working to diversify the accommodation options in Israel to suit the developing market trends, and thereafter increase incoming tourism. We are also working to recruit manpower for the industry, which currently employs more than 200,000 people. As a result of all these changes, we are optimistic about the growth in tourism and its consolidation as a significant contributory factor to the economy and the job market.”

Incoming tourism

The number of incoming tourists in 2017 is expected to be about 3.6 million, an increase of 25% on 2016. In the period January-November 2017, about 3.3 million tourist entries were recorded, an increase of 25.3% on the same period in 2016 (2.6 million) and 28% more than in 2015.  Of the 3.3 million, over 2.9 million tourist entries were by air, an increase of 22% on 2016. 373,000 tourists arrived via the land crossings, 50% increase on 2016.

Tourism by Country of Origin (excluding day visitors and cruise ships) 

January-November 2017: As in previous years, tourism from the USA continued to represent the largest country of origin for incoming tourism to Israel, with 716,000 visitors arriving in 2017, 21% more than 2016. In second place is tourism from Russia with 307,000 visitors, an increase of 26% on 2016. Tourism from France takes third place, with about 284,000 visitors (8% more than last year), followed by Germany (202,000; 34% more than last year) and the United Kingdom in fifth place with 185,000 visitors, 10% more than 2016.

Other countries worthy of note: Ukraine with 137,000 visitors; China with 105,000 visitors; Italy with 93,000 visitors; Poland, 85,000 visitors; Canada 75,000 visitors. December 2017 statistics to be published later in January 2018.  

Tourism to Israel:

  • 54% of incoming tourism was Christian tourism (39% of which is Catholic, 33% Protestant and 22% Russian Orthodox). 21% of incoming tourism was Jewish, with the remaining of other religious denominations or non-affiliated.
  • 59% of tourists were first time visitors.
  • 25% defined their visit as part of a pilgrimage, 23% as tour and travel, 10% as vacation and leisure. Overall, 59% defined their visit for tourism purposes, 24% visited friends or relatives and 11% came for business or to attend conventions.
  • 30% came as part of an organized tour, 6% on a package deal, and 64% came as FITs (frequent individual tourists).
  • 63% of tourists stayed in hotels, 21% stayed with friends or relatives and 4% stayed in youth hostels, 1% stayed in Christian hostels. 7% stayed in rented or owned apartments.


The winter campaign in Eilat is designed to attract tourists from the cold European countries to Eilat during the winter season. The campaign, which was launched during the fall season in Finland, Sweden and Russia, led to a significant increase in the number of tourists arriving in Israel. In Sweden, SAS reopened a direct flight to Eilat after a hiatus of 15 years.

The 3 millionth tourist campaign: In early November, the 3 millionth tourist landed in Israel and set the all-time record for tourists entering Israel. The campaign around the event was designed to emphasize the tourism industry’s prosperity in order to interest entrepreneurs for the construction of hotel and to recruit manpower that is lacking in the industry.

The opening of new markets in Poland and Romania identified by the Ministry as having tourism potential: Marketing campaigns were implemented, including branding the campaign logo on a LOT domestic aircraft that will fly throughout the year. The campaigns were designed to support new routes that were recently opened from Poland and Romania to Israel.

Launching of first social network campaign in China on Baidu and WeChat: This campaign supported a variety of activities and hostings of Chinese celebrities and opinion leaders to build the Israeli brand among Chinese audiences.

Expanding the Target Audience in the United States: For the first time, national television networks such as ABC were marketed in order to appeal to additional audiences beyond the traditional pilgrimage market. Marketing activities were also carried out among young religious audiences such as hosting a rock band of young religious Christians.

Course for Chinese Tour Guides in Israel as Tour Leaders: This year, a first-of-its-kind course was held for 40 tour guides from China who act as tour leaders for Chinese tour groups. The course, which familiarized them with Israel’s tourist sites and history, was designed to help the English-speaking Israeli tour guides with translation and explanations for the Chinese groups. The course is designed to deal with the growing shortage of Chinese-speaking tour guides in Israel, due to the growth in tourism from China.

Hostings: The ministry hosted nearly 3,000 opinion leaders, celebrities, bloggers, internet stars, actors, sportsmen and women, producers and journalists from around the world. The ministry hosted television crews from Romania, India and China who came to film popular TV programs about Israel.

Influential journalists from, among others, BBC Travel, Food and Wine, Travel and Leisure Magazine and Folha de Sao Paulo, who were hosted in Israel, were among those who wrote favourably about Israel as an on-trend attractive tourism destination.

Another prominent guest in 2017 was Perez Hilton, who arrived with his family for Gay Pride week in Tel Aviv, garnering much positive coverage among media targeted at the LGBT sector in the US. The ministry also hosted Christian media.

Revenue from incoming tourism

Revenue from incoming tourism alone totals about NIS 20 billion. There were about 40,000 jobs per month in tourist hotels, 8.3% more than last year.


During the first half of 2017, 402 tourist hotels operated in Israel with a total of 53,000 rooms. 85 hotels with 10,381 rooms operated in Jerusalem, 50 hotels with 11,023 rooms in Eilat, 70 hotels with 7,937 rooms in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, 15 hotels in the Dead Sea area with 4,532 rooms and 52 hotels with 6,545 rooms in the Tiberias and Sea of Galilee area.

10 million bed nights were registered in these hotels in the first half of 2015, 8% decrease on 2014. Since 2008, there has been a trend in tourist bed nights, away from tourist hotels into other accommodation (youth hostels, Christian hostels and privately-owned/rented apartments). About 5.9 million bed nights (59% of the total) were from Israelis, an increase of 8% on 2014.

For the first time in 15 years,  a new hotel is being built in Eilat (Astral): This hotel is also the first to be built within the framework of the new law promoted by the Tourism Minister that considers hotels as part of the national infrastructure and thereby deserving of shorter approval procedures. Astral will be a “low-cost” hotel, with 400 rooms using a business model that allows the guest to decide (and pay) on the hotel services he requires.

Tourist Expenditure

The average tourist expenditure in the first half of 2017 was $1600, with the average daily expenditure reaching $162. This included $617 on accommodation, $245 on transportation, touring and entry fees, $198 on food and drink and $168 on shopping.

For tourists visiting Israel for 30 days or less, the average expenditure stands at $1319 (daily $175).

Tourists spending the most money on a daily basis (by country, without flights), in the first half of 2017:

Indonesia ($310), South Korea ($277), Japan ($251), Singapore and China ($241), Mexico ($238), Argentina ($220).


Cities Visited

Jerusalem is the city most visited by incoming tourists in Israel, (78% of all tourists). Tel Aviv-Jaffa holds second place with 67% of all tourists having visited and in third place, the Dead Sea area with 49%. The Galilee area, including Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, receives 35% of all tourists.

Tourist Satisfaction

The satisfaction level of tourists visiting Israel in 2017 was very good to excellent (4.3 out of 5). Services that received a high rating included: tour guides and organized tours (4.5); archeological sites (4.4); Among those services which did not rate so highly: value for money (3.1), taxis (3.3) and cleanliness in public bathrooms (3.4).


* All statistics are estimates based on actual numbers up to November 2017

** Based on Inbound Tourism Survey Jan-June 2017


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