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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 11:09 GMT
Israeli tourism hits 20-year low
Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem
Violence has scared off foreign tourists
The Palestinian uprising against Israel military occupation has sent tourist numbers to their lowest level in 20 years, despite a sharp rise in Middle East tourism as a whole.

The Central Bureau of Statistics said the number of visitors to Israel fell to 862,300 in 2002, down 29% on 2001 and the lowest number since 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon.

About 2 million people a year visited Israel throughout the 1990s, hitting a record of 2.4 million in 2000.

But the tourist industry, one of the pillars of Israel's economy, went into decline at the end of 2000 after the start of the second Palestinian Intifada.

About 2,500 Palestinians and Israelis have died in the uprising.

Flights cut

Visitor numbers have also been affected by US carriers - including Delta and American Airlines - which have cut flights and capacity to Israel.

The economy is not always the number-one priority

Prof Avia Spivak
Bank of Israel
Almost a quarter of all visitors came from the US, Israel's main ally and financial supporter.

Of the 862,300 visitors in 2002, about 779,000 arrived by air.

Israel's economy plunged into recession in early 2001, contracting by 0.9% that year, and shrinking again by 1.0% in 2002.

Unemployment stands at 10.5%.

But while tourists stayed away from Israel, figures from the World Tourism Organisation indicated a surge in the popularity of the Middle East in general as a tourism destination.

The 139-country body said that with international tourist arrivals growing 3.1% globally, the Middle East saw the world's biggest climb in popularity with 10.6% more visitors in 2002 than in the previous year.

Breakdown in relations

The economy is commonly described as being in its worst recession in 50 years.

Economists in Israel attribute much of the trouble to the effects of the breakdown in relations with the Palestinians.

But Israel has not escaped the global economic downturn, with its formerly high-flying hi-tech industry particularly hard hit.

Many analysts expect national economic output to drop in 2003 for the third consecutive year and say a sustained up-turn is unlikely until a settlement is reached with the Palestinians.


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26 Jan 03 | Middle East
05 Jan 03 | Business
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