The number of visitors to Israel dropped in 2014 by eight percent in the wake of Israel’s Gaza war, which started during July and continued into the winter.
Some 3.26 million visitors arrived in Israel in 2014, compared with 3.67 million in 2013, according to an annual report released on Sunday by the ministry.
However, the number of tourists – visitors who are staying in the country for more than one night – dropped by less than 1 percent compared with 2013, due to a significant increase in the number of tourists during the first half of 2014, Xinhua reported.
Jerusalem – a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims – was the top destination for most tourists. The most visited sites were the Western Wall, a holy site revered by Jews as a remnant of the biblical Jewish temple and visited by 74 percent of the tourists, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was visited by 59 percent.
The year of 2014 was officially expected to be an all-time record year for incoming tourism to Israel.
But the 50-day-long war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas and a following wave of violence between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem caused a sharp descent in the number of visitors to the country in the second half of the year.
Director General of the Ministry of Tourism Amir Halevi said that 2014 started with a steep increase in the number of tourists but the Gaza war “halted the momentum”.
He, however, said that recovery is expected in the first half of 2015.
“The 500 million shekel assistance package assembled by the ministry for tourism businesses bolstered the industry, and restored our status as a growth engine that streams tens of billions of shekels into the economy,” he added.
Tourism accounts for about seven percent of Israel’s economy.