The Israel Government Tourist Office is forecasting a 3%-4% increase in UK visitor numbers this year on the back of a pre-millennium boom.
British visitors are trying to avoid an anticipated rush to Israel in the millennium by opting to visit the country this year instead.
Israel Government Tourist Office director Eliezer Hod said: “We are promoting the millennium, but many people are saying they wouls prefer to come in 1999. They are afraid that in 2000 we will not have any accommodation in Israel.”
Hod claimed the problems caused by the bombing of Iraq last December have been overcome.
The Foreign Office warned against all non-essential travel to Israel for around 10 days in December, while Thomson evacuated 600 customers during the NATO air strikes on Iraq and then cancelled the remainder of its winter programme (Travel Weekly January 6).
At the time, Hod complained he had to spend an extra £250,000 on a campaign to promote Eilat in January to counter the bad publicity surrounding the crisis in Iraq.
“The year didn’t start well because of the crisis in the Gulf,” he said last week.
“It was unjust because Eilat has never been touched by any country, including Iraq.”
However, Hod claimed that tour operators’ profitability had improved in 1999 because of cutbacks in air capacity.
He said there were 47 flights a week to Israel this year and there were 50 a week in 1998.
UK visitor volumes to Israel in 1998 were stable in comparison with the figures for 1997, despite the impact of a series of crises involving Iraq.
“After all the problems, we kept the numbers stable in 1998,” Hod claimed. He was unable to give exact visitor figures.
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