During the first half of 2023, tourism from the U.S. to Israel had increased by 12 percent over the same previously record-breaking period in 2019 signaling that the country was enjoying significant growth following the end of the pandemic. Prior to October 7, reservations for fall and winter were robust providing a sense of optimism for Israel’s tourism industry.
While this is an incredibly difficult time for the people of Israel, in the four weeks since the attacks by Hamas, tens of thousands of civilian volunteers have come together to assist in providing comfort and aid to those who have been displaced or suffered the loss of loved ones.
“On October 7, the lives of Israeli citizens were changed forever,” said Eyal Carlin, Israel’s tourism commissioner to North America. “In the nearly four weeks since that horrific day, the tourism community has united like never before to provide comfort to those who are grieving or have loved ones missing, while looking ahead to a time when we can again safely welcome travelers back to our amazing country.”
The Israel Ministry of Tourism, along with other tourism industry leaders, have launched several initiatives to help bring support and comfort to its people during this ongoing conflict.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism, in partnership with the Israel Hotels Association and in cooperation with the National Emergency Management Authority, is providing housing in hotels and youth hostels for all those who have been displaced or evacuated. The ministry has already sourced tens of thousands of guestrooms and includes all meals.
The Israel Association of Travel Agencies and Consultants has been working continuously to ensure the safe return of Israelis on rescue flights, assisting citizens to find their way back to Israel in the wake of flight cancelations. The association has also advocated for fair flight cancelation policies besides keeping abreast of flight cancelations, schedule changes and rescue flights in real time.
The Jerusalem Development Authority (Jerusalem’s tourism arm) has joined the national effort by organizing activities for evacuees staying in Jerusalem hotels.
Tel Aviv Global has also joined the national effort by opening a 24/7 situation room to provide solutions for evacuee families, sourcing guestrooms and more; providing essential information related to the city for tourists, visitors and residents alike; and cooperating with the local tourism industry, technology innovators and others willing to create initiatives and programs to benefit the evacuees.
The Transport Companies Organization’s involvement includes assistance in evacuating residents from Gaza as well as other areas of concern and providing buses for organized tours for evacuees.
KKL-JNF’s emergency financial assistance for the benefit of communities living under fire is estimated at approximately NIS 40 million. These initiatives for the benefit of the national effort include, among others:
- Ongoing assistance in evacuation to guest houses in the center of the country, extended stay for those already evacuated and the implementation of educational and recreational activities
- Purchasing temporary concrete shelters, security equipment, generators and computer equipment for the local emergency teams in the communities up to 4.3 miles from the border
- The volunteering and special needs department of KKL-JNF initiated a series of activities in apartments and sheltered housing for people with special needs who are unable to leave their homes. These include the distribution of experiential kits and board games created by KKL-JNF, and encouraging dialogue to provide hope in times of uncertainty. It is hoped that the activities can be expanded beyond the current facilities in Jerusalem and Kfar Saba.
JNF USA has raised $27.5 million to date to support on the ground efforts on everything from housing and mental health trauma services to food and clothing.
Ben Gurion Airport has been operating continuously, and is open for departures and arrivals providing service to all airlines—Israeli and international—while ensuring security and safety. Israir Airlines is offering one-way fares between Ramon and Ben Gurion airports for families visiting loved ones evacuated to hotels in Eilat. It is also providing one-way fares to evacuees of the Gaza periphery staying in Eilat wanting to travel to the country’s center along with medical teams en route to assist evacuee families.
Israir Airlines has flown some 50,000 passengers, launched rescue flights from various destinations to bring home Israeli citizens, reservists and security personnel stranded abroad. Israir has also flown families to speaking engagements overseas to draw attention to their plight and flown cargo flights carrying much-needed equipment. On its regular daily flights to Eilat, Israir offers tickets for evacuees at just NIS 69. The airline continues to fly to several Israeli destinations such as Larnaca, Athens, Baku, Tbilisi, Batumi and Varna. The service center, based in Sderot, operates day and night to answer all inquiries.
Israel Tour Guides Association has opened a situation room to create connections between voluntary organizations and members of the association to provide a response to the many requests received from the field in areas such as:
- Civilian (agricultural activities, transport)
- Evacuees (transport, equipment, food, clothing, accommodation, etc.)
- Security and rescue forces (equipment for reservists, transport, food, etc.)
- Activities included transport of combat equipment, medical equipment, donations and even public diplomacy in various languages (video editing and distribution)
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) is assisting by:
- Offering free tours for evacuees staying in the Dead Sea area to nature reserves and sites such as Ein Bokek, Ein Gedi and Masada. These tours, which are organized in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry, the Ministry of the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience and the Or movement, include transport, guiding, refreshments, security and free entry to the sites. More tours are planned in the region and around the country.
- Rescuing protected wild animals from the communities near the Gaza strip
- Transferring birds of prey from a breeding center in the south to better protected areas such as zoos
- Ensuring the safety of wild animals with rangers in nature conservation enforcement areas
- Offering online environmental education to children whose elementary schools are closed for security reasons
- About half of the INPA sites remain open, with free admission for evacuees
- Free activities with the educational team for children evacuated to the Eilat region in Hai Bar Yotveta
- The INPA website offers a range of activities and content for children and families unable to leave home
- Transfer of mattresses and equipment to the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) from night camping lots that are no longer in operation (for instance, Hurshat Tal)
For more information, visit www.gov.il.