Tourism to Israel is continuing to increase at record-breaking rates. In the January- August 2018 period, an estimated 2.6 million tourist entries were recorded, an increase of 16.5 percent on the same period in 2017 (about 2.3 million) and 44 percent more than in 2016. With new hotel and flight options, a new information center and city pass in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, plus a diverse portfolio of upcoming events and festivals, the country continues to attract more tourists.
New Attractions: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are now offering more information to tourists than ever before with new information centers in each city. The Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) has launched a series of services to make the city more accessible and convenient for tourists, including a new city pass that offers a bus service from the airport to Jerusalem, free inner-city public transportation and discounts at the city’s attractions and museums.
In addition, the Jerusalem Development Authority has stationed large colorful trucks in the Jaffa gate and the Machne Yehuda food market. Visitors will be able to get information on tourist attractions, art, cultural events, the culinary scene and historical sites. The trucks will have free Wi-Fi, cell phone charging stations and cool drinks.
The newly unveiled Wall Promenade in Caesarea National Park (pictured above) allows visitors to enjoy another historic layer in the ancient city. The restoration and accessibility works were designed specifically to enable visitors walking the restored promenade to view illustration aids to enjoy a glimpse into the past of a city that united religions, cultures, and multiple rulers and conquerors. The newly opened fortifications, towers, and the Crusaders’ market were previously buried by sand.
Along the tour of the fortifications—the walls, moat, and the Crusaders’ market, all built in 1251, during the visit of Louis IX, King of France—visitors can step centuries back in time to the Middle Ages and the Crusader period. Visitors can touch reconstructed parts of the walls, peer through the embrasures and are invited to descend through the mysterious access tunnel that was used by the Crusader knights to access the moat surrounding the fortifications as a way of bringing food and ammunition supplies without risking a breach of the walls.
In Jerusalem, The Tower of David Museum and the ToD Innovation Lab have teamed up with Lithodomos VR to produce “Jerusalem VR Tours: Step Into History,” the first mobile virtual reality walking tour in Israel. Visitors will be able to see the Jerusalem that pilgrims would have seen 2,000 years ago when they came from all over the ancient world to the Second Temple built by Herod the Great.
The tour, available in English and Hebrew, guides visitors through the Tower of David Museum and winds its way down from the ancient fortress through the Old City using virtual reality viewpoints at the Western Wall, Robinson’s Arch, the Jewish Quarter and the Cardo to show Jerusalem today and at the time of the Second Temple 2000 years ago during the time of King Herod.
The tour guide will explain the mysteries of the city, and when guests put on the headset in the right location, virtual reality will fill in the missing pieces and provide the visitor with a full picture and a deeper understanding of Herod’s Jerusalem. The views and the scenes in the VR reconstructions replicate the city and the Second Temple that King Herod built some 2,000 years ago.
Upcoming Events: The floor of the Arava Desert will be blanketed by mats for the largest yoga gathering in the Middle East at the Yoga Arava Festival, Nov. 1-3. The festival welcomes participants and yoga teachers from all over the world for mindfulness and serenity. Throughout the weekend, the villages of the Arava will host a variety of yoga workshops with the best teachers in Israel and special guest teachers from abroad.
The urban culinary festival, Open Restaurants Jerusalem, began six years ago in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and is in its third year in Jerusalem. This year’s event takes place Nov. 13-17 and provides a “behind the kitchen door” look at the city’s hot and exciting culinary scene. The festival will include a wide array of cultural and multidisciplinary events showcasing the capital’s cultural institutions, chefs, manufacturers, restaurants and local culinary personalities.
During the Open Restaurants events, many of Jerusalem’s finest restaurants will open their kitchens for special workshops and dinners, among them Machneyuda, Hamotzi, Adom, and Azura. Tickets to the various events and workshops go on sale in October and can be purchased online.
The warm winter sun in Eilat on the Red Sea allows athletes to kick off the international marathon circuit with the Eilat International Desert Marathon on Nov. 30, 2018. Eilat, Israel’s premier resort destination on the Red Sea, rivals the best of European beaches and is also a serious sporting destination for athletes who come to take advantage of the warm winter weather, the varied desert landscapes, the calm waters of the bay of Eilat, and a host of professional and amateur international sporting events.
What’s Ahead Next Year: For the first time ever, the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Tel Aviv, following its selection as the host city by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) after an extensive inspection and evaluation of the city’s amenities and facilities.
Some 1,500 journalists and tens of thousands of tourists are expected to visit Tel Aviv to share in the citywide celebrations. The three main events—two semifinals and the final event broadcast live to millions of viewers around the world—will take place at Pavilions 1 and 2 at EXPO Tel Aviv International Convention Center on May 14, 16 and 18, 2019. Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in two decades on May 12 this year when Netta Barzilai got first place with her anthem “Toy.”
Over the last few years, the City of Tel Aviv has invested vast resources in developing its facilities and infrastructure in order to become a prime destination for major international conferences and events. This year, the destination was one of the host cities of the 2018 Giro d’Italia Big Start, the only location outside of Italy, as well as the 2018 European Judo Championships.
On Aug. 2, United Airlines announced new service to Israel with a nonstop flight between Washington Dulles International Airport and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. The new flight will be the first to be operated by a U.S. carrier between those two cities, starting on May 22, 2019. In addition, Delta Air Lines last month announced it will be launching a second daily flight between New York and Tel Aviv for the summer 2019. The new daily flight will operate in the afternoon departing at 3:35 pm, complementing the late-night flight already in operation from JFK.
By James Shillinglaw