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Israel: Tourism in Israel

The tourism industry in Israel is quite large, employing over 200,000 people (about 6% of Israel's work force).  Israel experienced record tourism numbers in 2013, with 3.54 million visitors total (including daily visitors from neighboring countries).  A fascinating tourist destination for many reasons, Israel has the highest concentration of museums per capita in the world and is brimming with history and religious significance for many people.  Popular tourist sites in Israel include The Western Wall, Jerusalem's Old City, The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Masada, and the grave of Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai. Tourists from he United States account for 18% of all tourism in Israel, followed by Russia, France, and Germany. 

The most visited city in Israel is Jerusalem, which recieves approximately 3.4 million tourists annually. Holding profound significance in all three of the world's major religions, Jerusalem contains many historical, archaeological, and religiously significant attractions that all individuals can enjoy.  Tel Aviv is Israel's second most visited city, and in 2010 was ranked as one of National Geographic's top 10 best beach cities.  Known for it's intense party atmosphere and reputation as the Middle East's "city that never sleeps," Tel Aviv is a popular destination for young people looking for a night out. 

Citing high price competition and security concerns, the World Economic Forum ranked Israel #72 out of 141 countries in their 2014 tourism competitveness index. Israel was ranked as #53 in 2013. Israel's environmental sustainability ranking, as well as safety and security ranking and international openness ranking contributed to Israel's decline on the list. In response to the report, the Israeli Tourism Ministry announced that they had increased their marketing budget for the coming fiscal year, and were planning to introduce new flight routes from new cities to Israel.

Israeli cities Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were ranked the 17th and 28th best cities in the world by the readers of Conde Nast travel magazine, published in their October 2016 issue. To view the full list of the top 30 countries ranked by Conde Nast readers, please click here.

Recent Developments

The Israeli tourism industry in 2014 experienced a slight downturn brought on by the Summer Gaza war Operation Protective Edge, but the year ended with just a 1% decrease in foreign visitors compared to 2013's record number of 2.96 million.  In 2014 2.92 million tourists visited Israel for more than one day, contributing over 40 billion NIS to the the Israeli economy.  This number represents a 1% increase over 2012's tourism total, and a 4% increase over 2010 and 2011's totals.  When daily visitor tourists from neighboring countries are included, the number of total tourists in 2014 increases to 3.25 million individuals. 

Of the individuals who visited Israel in 2014, 2.5 million of them arrived by air and 400,000 arrived via land borders. Passengers on cruise ships represented 88,000 tourists, which is significantly lower than 2013's number of approximately 130,000 cruise chip tourists. 

Operation Protective Edge significantly hurt the tourism industry in Israel during 2014.  During the first half of 2014 in the months leading up to the Summer war, Israel tourism had increased an average of 8% per month compared to 2013's numbers.  At the rate that it was going, 2014's tourism statistics were set to outpace the record numbers set in 2013.  During the last half of the year due to the threat of conflict with militants in the Gaza Strip, Israel experienced a 24% decline in visitor entries and ended the year about 4 million short of the mark set during the previous year. 

Tourism numbers in 2015 were comparable to tourism numbers years immediately previous, said Anat Aronson, spokesperson for the Israeli Tourism Ministry. Aronson said that 2015's numbers were weaker than expected because of economic hardship in Russia and Eastern Europe. Americans were the largest group of visitors to Israel, accounting for 20% of the 2,799,000 tourists arriving in Israel in 2015.

An estimated 50,000 Chinese tourists visited Israel in 2015, rising 43% from the number of Chinese tourists in 2014. The number of tourists from India also increased dramatically, with 40,000 Indian nationals vacationing in Israel in 2015.

Despite the wave of terror attacks perpetuated against Israelis during October and November 2015, Israel saw a significant spike in tourism during October. Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics released a report in November 2015, detailing how 290,000 tourists visited Israel in October as opposed to only 224,000 visitors during September. This represents a 29% increase in tourism during a period of time when Israelis were being stabbed on the streets daily by Palestinian extremists. In addition to a 29% increase from September, this number represents a 5% overall increase in tourism numbers compared to October 2014. The majority of these tourists (257,000), arrived in Israel by plane.

Tourism to Israel in 2016 rose by 3.6% compared to 2015, as the country welcomed 2.9 million tourists. Israel's Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, attributed the rise in visitors to the Tourism Ministry's increased marketing efforts. During 2016, 60% of tourists visited Israel independently instead of with a group trip, reversing a trend from previous years.

Tourism from China continued to boom in 2016, increasing by 69% over 2015. Israel also saw a 62% rise in Croatian tourists, a 41% rise in Belarusian, Latvian, and Georgian tourists, a 35% rise in Malaysian tourists, and a 13% rise in tourists from India during 2016.

The United States sent 648,310 tourists to Israel in 2016, 5% more than 2015 and 8% more than 2014.

April 2017 set an all-time record high for tourism in Israel, with 349,000 foreigners travelling to the country.  This number is a 38% increase from April 2016's tourism total.  

Year Total Tourists (Stayed more than 1 day)
2005 1,902,700
2006 1,825,200
2007 2,063,100
2008 2,568,600
2009 2,321,400
2010 2,803,200
2011 2,820,200
2012 2,885,900
2013 2,961,700
2014 2,926,000
2015 2,799,000
2016 2,900,000

Tourism 1990-2011 Brochure

Click here to view the "Tourism in Israel 1990-2011" brochure published by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics and Israel Ministry of Tourism


Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics;
Haaretz. “Israel drops in tourism rankings due to high prices and security concerns,” Haaretz (May 10, 2015);
Central Bureau of Statistics;

Stub, Sara. “Tourism to Israel fell slightly in 2014,” The Wall Street Journal (January 11, 2015);
Raz-Chaimovich, Michal. “Tourism to Israel up 3.6% in 2016,” Globes (January 9, 2017);
Central Bureau of Statistics