Figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics show that the expensive efforts to brand the country as a fun, carefree destination, especially for Europeans, are failing.
Overall, the number of visitors to Israel last year dropped by 1.2 percent. This comes after even sharper drops in previous years – 4.4 percent in 2015 and 8.2 percent in 2014.
In December, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s tourism ministry “was granted its biggest marketing budget ever in the past year as it tried to change Israel’s image as a travel destination and expand the range of tourism offerings.”
The flagship “Two Cities, One Break” campaign was directed at European tourists to attract them to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
It cost more than $23 million, but ministry sources told Haaretz that “the campaign fell flat.”
Israel has also brought D-list celebrities over on free junkets in the hope that their social media postings would draw visitors.
The largest number of visitors to Israel comes from France – and those numbers fell from 300,000 in 2015 to 293,000 last year.
There were 18,000 fewer visitors from Germany – a drop of nine percent. The number of visitors from Russia plummeted from 414,000 to 285,000.
Israel did make up some of its losses in Asia: it hosted 86,000 tourists from China, compared with 52,000 in 2015. It also saw about 37,000 more visitors from North America, mostly the United States.
Israel’s woes are not unique: Turkey, which suffered a military coup attempt in July and has been beset by horrific bombing and shooting attacks, saw tourist visits plummet by 21 percent last year.
Egypt continues to see double digit declines in visitors.
But a general sense of danger due to violence in the region is not the whole story.
Jordan managed to buck the trend, recording an increase in tourist arrivals of 2.6 percent in 2016, according to its tourism ministry.
Jordan attracted 3.8 million visitors, compared with just over three million to Israel.
Mixed message, harsh reality
Israel tries to market itself as distinct from the rest of the region – a gay-friendly outpost of “Western” civilization and fun in a tumultuous neighborhood.
But this branding is undermined by the fact that Israel is usually in the headlines because of its brutal occupation and aggressive colonization of Palestinian land, violence in the streets of the cities it is hoping tourists will visit, the racist declarations of its politicians and its underhanded efforts to sabotage the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
Indeed, Israeli leaders continue to insist that the country is beset by dangers that could “wipe out every Israeli.” While this line is aimed at gaining political sympathy, it hardly makes it an enticing place for people who want to have a good time.
Incidentally, there’s another notable trend in Spain: since the 2014 attack on Gaza, more than 50 Spanish cities have declared themselves “free of Israeli apartheid.”