In 2009, 2.7 million tourists vacationed in Israel, making it the second-best year for tourism in the country's 60-year history, just 11 percent less than the record set in 2008. "We're thrilled with this result," says Arie Sommer, Israel Tourism Commissioner for North and South America, "because while tourism to many countries dropped catastrophically in 2009, it underscores Israel's extraordinary viability as a tourist destination despite the worst recession in 70 years."
The U.S. is the largest single source of tourism to Israel, accounting for 21 percent of arriving travelers. Russia is the second largest source of tourists to Israel, followed by France, Britain and Germany.
"A year long survey of a sampling of departing visitors has revealed much about who visits Israel," Sommer explained, "and will be enormously helpful to us in marketing tourism to Israel in the coming decades." Facets of the survey revealed that:
• 54 percent of incoming visitors described themselves as 'Christian' and 39 percent as 'Jewish'
• 45 percent of the 2009 visitors were visiting Israel for the first time
• 61 percent of 2009 visitors described themselves as 'tourists,' 25 percent as 'visiting friends and family' and 12 percent as coming 'on business'
• Of the 'tourists,' 31 percent said they were coming on a 'pilgrimage,' 53 percent said they were coming on 'organized or package tours,' and 39 percent were traveling 'independently'
• Jerusalem is the most visited city in Israel, followed by Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and Masada, and the Galilee.
Five airlines (El Al, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Air Canada) operate direct service from North America to Israel, with as many as 10 nonstop flights a day.