Tourist arrivals and Israelis travelling abroad: Data through February 2020

8th March 2020

Bottom line:  Very rarely can a major change in trend be identified virtually in real time. However, the multi-year boom in global travel and, in the specific case of Israel, the sharp rise in tourist arrivals and Israelis’ departures abroad came to an abrupt end in February 2020. The data for the first two months of 2020, published on March 4, relate to what is already a bygone era.

Specifics:

  • TOURIST ARRIVALS in January-February 2020 were 4.1% up on the same period in 2019 and hence at record levels for these months. Nevertheless, the rate of increase was modest compared to annual rates of 10.5%, 14.0% and 24.6% in 2019, 2018 and 2017 respectively.
  • INCOMING TOURISM was hit by prolonged hostilities in Gaza in mid-2014, but the strong growth of 2017/ 2019 resulted in successive record-breaking years, culminating in 4.9m arrivals in 2019 – 60% more than in 2016.
  • ISRAELIS’ DEPARTURES: January-February 2020 saw a 4.4% rise over the year-earlier period, extending the boom in foreign travel that has been underway since 2009. In 2019, 9.2m departures were recorded – many people traveled several times – compared to barely 4m in 2009.
  • Several factors contributed to this surge, including rising real wages and a strong shekel – but the “Open Skies” agreement with the EU, which brought low-cost air travel to Israel, was the most important.
  • Pensioners (age 65+) and youngsters (under 20) led the way overseas, with 320% and 274% increases respectively between 2009 and 2019.

 Outlook

March is certain to see a drastic fall in both arrivals and departures. The abrupt swing from boom to crisis is unprecedented, because it does not stem from national security issues, but from global health concerns. Furthermore, no-one knows how long the crisis will last. However, it is likely that the recovery, when it comes, will be gradual, rather than sharp.

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