The Ministry of Tourism reports that 290,000 tourists visited Israel in April 2008, an amount similar to that recorded in Israel's record-breaking tourism year, 2000.
The totals for this past April were 26% over April 2006, as well as 41% more than April 2007, when tourism was still negatively affected by the Second Lebanon War eight months earlier.
Annual Rate Up 43%
During the first four months of 2008, 936,000 tourists arrived in Israel - an increase of 43% from the same period in 2007, and 34% more than the same period in 2006.
The current pace of growth is consistent with Tourism Ministry goals to attract 2.8 million tourists to Israel this year. However, Tourism Ministry Director General Sha'ul Tzemach says that this blessing places in bold relief the increasing shortage of available guest rooms in Israel.
The current number of guest rooms does not match future demands.
"The current number of guest rooms does not match future demands," Tzemach said. The Ministry hopes to attract 5 million tourists in 2012. "We hope to build another 2,500 rooms within three years, and to increase the budget for building hotels and assisting local and foreign entrepreneurs who have recently shown great interest in investing in the Israeli hotel industry."
The second stage of a 90-million shekel initiative to encourage tourism investment is beginning today (Wednesday). The Ministry's Investments Committee and representatives from the Ministries of Finance and Industry/Trade are meeting to examine 12 new proposals for the construction or expansion of hotels and guest rooms in Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee area, Akko (Acre), Ashdod, Kiryat Shmona and the Upper Galilee.
The combined scope of these investments is 1,660 new guest rooms for a total of 1 billion shekels. Plans that meet the ministries' preconditions will be eligible for financial assistance from the government of up to 20%. Several similar proposals raised last year are already being seriously considered by the Tourism Ministry, for the construction or renovation of 700 guest rooms.
If tourism continues to climb in accordance with Tourism Ministry goals, this will result in a shortage of thousands of hotel rooms, at a tremendous financial cost to the tourism industry in particular and the economy in general.