Israel tourism jumps 25 pct in 2007 to 2.3 million


JERUSALEM, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Tourism to Israel jumped 25 percent in 2007 to its highest level in seven years, led by a record number of visitors from the United States, the Central Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday.

Some 2.3 million people visited Israel last year compared with 1.8 million in 2006, when tourism suffered in the second half of the year after the outbreak of Israel’s war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas. Tourism fell 4.5 percent in 2006.

The statistics bureau said that 24 percent of tourists, or 542,000, came from the United States for a 10 percent rise over 2006. France was second with 246,000.

Tourists crossing over the Egyptian border jumped 137 percent in 2007, while those coming from Jordan rose 40 percent.

Tourism — a key economic sector in Israel — hit a record with more than 2.5 million in 2000 but Israeli-Palestinian violence kept visitors away in droves in from 2001 to 2003.

With attacks and suicide bombings by Palestinian militants sharply lower, tourism has recovered in the past few years.

Officials expect a record year for tourism in 2008, when Israel celebrates 60 years of statehood.

The bureau also reported a 12 percent rise in the number of departures of Israelis abroad to an all-time high of 4.1 million.