Whether it is because of Israel’s upcoming 75th birthday, in late April this year, or pent-up demand loosened by less restrictive COVID testing, regulations, and fears, 2023 is shaping up to be a phenomenal year for tourism to Israel.
“The projections show that 2023 will exceed the levels of tourism in 2019,” which was the year before the pandemic struck most of the world, said Cheri Scheff Levitan, CEO of Israel-based Kenes Tours. “For the last two years, Kenes Tours has worked with Jewish Federations of North America on their April ’23 General Assembly in Israel. Numerous federations are running community missions around the GA. In addition, many other Jewish organizations (like Jewish National Fund, World Union for Progressive Judaism, March of the Living, etc.) are using the 75th as the perfect excuse to visit Israel again. Many haven’t traveled for two to three years.”
The Director for the Southern Region USA of the Israel Ministry of Tourism, Yael Golan, couldn’t agree more. Golan told the AJT, “2023 is looking to be a great year for travel to Israel. The Galilee was just nominated one of the best 23 regions to visit in 2023 by Conde Nast traveler and with Israel celebrating 75, we’re expecting a new record of faith-based travelers between April and June, and great numbers beyond that as well.”
According to Wendy Yaniv, founder of 5 Senses Tour, the tourism optimism goes beyond this coming year. “Requests for tours in 2023 are very robust and I am even planning curated private tours for 2024,” she said.
There may be another factor that is increasing the enthusiasm for U.S. travel to Israel, especially from the southeast. Delta Air Lines restarts its direct, nonstop service between Atlanta and Israel in mid-March. “The new Delta nonstop flight between Atlanta and Tel Aviv will serve passengers traveling from different cities throughout southern USA but will also see connecting passengers from the west and mid-country,” said Golan. “It will increase existing interest and create demand from unserved markets.”
She added that “Atlanta has been a growing market for us in the past five years and with Florida and Texas, Georgia is becoming a leading source of travel to Israel from a variety of travel segments, including multi-generational, luxury, Christian and Jewish” markets.
Not everyone, however, believes the increase in tourism this year can be attributed to the new Delta flights. “The flight days and times are not ideal, so it will be interesting to see if the route will succeed and/or expand,” said Levitan. Delta had nonstop service between Atlanta and Tel Aviv before but was stopped in August 2011.
One thing seems to be clear: The anticipation of Israel’s most right-wing government that will be sworn in possibly by the end of the year “has had no impact on tourism thus far,” according to Golan.
Yaniv agrees. “Is the new government having an impact? I have not seen an impact at this point, but it is a hurry-up-and-wait situation” as incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cobbles together his new government.
“I think people who want to go to Israel don’t really look at the government,” Yaniv asserts, “but rather, they want to experience the country, the history, and the culture. My tours are not ‘religious,’ but they are interfaith, so we explore all of the people and the cultures.”
Yaniv added that, “as of now, Israeli is quite high on the list of countries for people to explore. The culinary and wine scene along with winning awards for the most beautiful hotel in the world, Israel has a lot to be proud of. Let›s hope nothing changes on the tourism front and all remains calm.”