Israel's Best Year

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the modern state of Israel’s independence. To honor this event, Israel’s Tourism Board recently launched a new advertising campaign to encourage new business to the ancient land. And it seems to be working. “In 1998, we had 450,000 tourists from the U.S. to Israel,” says Arie Sommer, tourism commissioner for Israel. “In 2008, we are expecting around 650,000.”

tel aviv israel

Tel Aviv is now a popular destination for U.S. travelers

Even as recently as two or three years ago, Sommer says, people tended to come to Israel in groups—“whether it was a group from the church, or from the synagogue, or from different organizations.” More recently, he says, “people are coming by themselves…They come to Israel, they rent a car, they drive all over, they visit the country, they book hotels there, the same way they travel in Europe and to other places.”

With the recent downturn in the U.S. economy, many travelers are foregoing long-distance trips. “Some of them don’t want to leave the United States right now,” Sommer says. On the other hand, he adds, “many people who are booking tours have paid for it, so they’re not going to cancel.”

Although Israel will always attract tourists to such legendary sites as Masada, Galilee and Jerusalem, Sommer says that there are other locations where people can enjoy a great vacation and combine it with religious and historic places. Tel Aviv, for instance, has become popular with Americans. Sommer says, “They look at it like they look at Paris and London in terms of having a good time and enjoying a good vacation there. Like New York, it’s a nonstop city that never sleeps.”

After enjoying city life, travelers can spend a great weekend or a few days up in the Galilee, which features many bed-and-breakfasts. “They are not huge hotels, but they are nice,” says Sommer. “They are very romantic. People can come enjoy nature and enjoy the beautiful scenery there and enjoy great hospitality.”

Jerusalem will soon have its own Waldorf= Astoria hotel to go along with its Four Seasons property. “Not everybody is aware that Israel is a true modern state with great facilities and great hotels,” Sommer says. It is also a cost-effective vacation. “Compared to the euro, Israel is very cheap. Americans can get the same vacation—even a better one—in Israel [as they can] in Europe.”


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