Airplane landing at Ben Gurion
Airplane landing at Ben GurionIsrael news photo: Flash 90

With all the places in the world for Western tourists to visit, why choose Israel? A study released by the Tourism Ministry indicates that for many people, it's the positive experience friends and relatives had in a previous visit to Israel. When asked about what the most influential factor was in their decision to visit Israel, 49% answered family and friends, while only 20% attributed the decision to the recommendations of a travel agent.

The results, said Minister of Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov, “strengthen the basic assumption behind the new campaign “Invite a Friend”, in which friends and family are the main factor in deciding on a visit to Israel. Everyone can be part of this effort to bring tourists to Israel and thereby contribute to the economy, job creation and Israel’s image in the world.”

The Ministry started the campaign last year, and the study released Thursday was part of the annual accounting of the tourism industry in Israel. The data were part of the recently-published 2011 Inbound Tourism Survey reveals new statistics related to the characteristics of incoming tourists to Israel.  The survey was carried out by the Tourism Ministry among 25,000 families (representing about 42,000 people) and is a representative sample of the survey population.

According to the survey, the average length of time for a tourist to stay in Israel (among those staying for up to 30 days) is 8.2 nights, a slight increase over 2010. Most tourists stay in hotels or vacation resorts (71%), accounting for the majority of their spending in the country. On average, a tourist to Israel spends $1,497, the survey said.

The largest number of people visiting Israel are not Jewish, but Christian; and the largest number of Christians coming to Israel are Catholic, not fundamentalist Protestants. Fifty eight percent of visitors in 2011 were Christian, while only 25% were Jewish; 1% were Moslem. Among the Christians, 52% were Catholic, and 21% Protestants. The highest proportion of Christian tourists came from Nigeria, Poland, Portugal and Italy, while for Jewish tourists, the largest proportion based on Jewish population in the respective countries were from France, Argentina, Belgium and England.

Most of the tourists arriving in Israel were between the ages of 25-44 (41%), with 12% of all tourists from the younger age groups. 22% of all tourists are aged 55 and over, particularly those arriving from Portugal and Austria or those arriving for pilgrimage purposes.