Ben Gurion Airport
Ben Gurion AirportFlash 90

Tourism to Israel dropped slightly this year compared to last year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), which recorded a 16% drop compared to September 2012.

September's figure of 255,000 visitors to the country was also lower than the same calendar month in 2011 and 2010.

Israel's Ministry of Tourism says, however, that the statistics do not represent the emergence of a gloomy picture, but rather, can be explained by regional tension and the dates of Jewish holidays  - which all fell in September this year.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 212,000 of the 255,000 visitors to Israel last month stayed more than one night, with a sharp fall of day visitors to the country, many of whom are on Mediterranean cruises.

The Ministry of Tourism said a 90% drop in day visitors had been caused by regional tension, pointing particularly to the spate of violence and deaths in neighboring Egypt and Syria.

Statistics noted a 29% drop in visitors crossing borders into Israel, with the number passing the Taba – Eilat border down around half of last year's numbers, and visitors from Jordan falling by 14%. A 31% drop was recorded among cruise ship day visitors, who have kept away from the region in light of the fighting in Egypt and recent threat of war in Syria.

Despite the low rates, Tourism Minister Dr. Uzi Landau has said the prospects for a future boom in tourism look good..

He said the Ministry had been encouraging foreign tourism and concentrating efforts on lowering the cost of vacationing in Israel - with investment in hotel construction and camping site development - whilst also working to strengthen domestic tourism.

The country, he added, "continues to be one of the safest tourist destinations."

The Ministry said that the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot all fell in September and that contrary to what some think, the festivals do not bring great swathes of visitors.  A Ministry statement said,

"These Jewish holidays do not exert a positive influence on incoming tourism due to the high prices and high occupancy of hotels (largely by Israeli clients)."

Aside from September's dip, the Ministry says the overall number of visitors to Israel for the year was up in comparison to last year, with over 2.6 million visiting from January through September in 2013 – a 2% increase on 2012, 5% more than in 2011, and 4% up on 2010 figures. Of this number, however, the Ministry points out that 2.1 million of visitors were tourists still leaving a 2% fall from last year.