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Foreign Briefing: Jerusalem bombing, Middle East unrest may scare off Israel tourists

April 03, 2011

1. Coming off a record-breaking year and heading into the Passover/Easter season, officials in Israel's surging tourism industry fear a March 23 bombing in Jerusalem in which a British tourist was killed could break the country's momentum.

There have been no reports yet of significant tour cancellations or lost bookings. But few countries understand the correlation between terrorism and tourism better than Israel.

Relative quiet and the absence of suicide attacks in recent years enabled the Holy Land to rebuild its tourism industry, which brings in $9 billion a year and provides 160,000 jobs. Last year a record 3.45 million people visited Israel, up 20% from the previous year and more than triple the number that came in 2003, during the last Palestinian uprising.

"Whenever we stay out of the headlines, it helps our situation,'' said Yossi Fatael, chairman of Israel's Tourist & Travel Agents Assn.

Taking advantage of the lull, Israeli government officials moved to market the country to the growing religious-tourism niche, taking advantage of the fact that the Holy Land is home to many of the world's most sacred sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They did so well that Israel, and particularly Jerusalem, faced a hotel-room shortage in 2010.

"From an economic side, 2010 was a good year, because politically and on the security side, the country was quiet and the region was calm,'' Fatael said. "Unfortunately, that's contrary to the situation we have in 2011."

Adding to the potential problems was the recent unrest in Egypt, a country that is a major tourist draw in the Mideast and helps feed Israel's tourism industry.

Fatael said he had seen no signs that tour operators and hotels were dropping prices or offering deals in response to the uptick in violence.

The recent bombing did not prompt the U.S. State Department to alter its travel warning for Israel, which was last updated in August 2010. The notice encourages Americans to stay vigilant and use caution, particularly in Jerusalem.

For travel information, packages and security advice, visit http://www.goisrael.com/tourism_eng, tour.jerusalem.muni.il/eng/, israel.usembassy.gov/consular/acs/travelinformation.html

—Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem

2. Egypt

Weeks of unrest in two of North Africa's most important tourist destinations have caused airlines to reduce service, with at least 100,000 fewer seats a week flying to or from Egypt and Tunisia. The spread of protests as well as war in Libya have forced airlines to rethink plans for the April tourist season.

—Reuters

3. France

Paris is building a colossal shell-like glass and steel canopy over its Les Halles shopping center in a $1-billion revamp of what has become an eyesore of dated architecture at the heart of the capital. The renovation, set for completion in 2016, will include a redesign of the site's 10-acre garden and a revamp of the underground station.

—Reuters

4. Vietnam

Vietnamese authorities fined a tour company and ordered it to suspend operations after a boat sinking in February that killed 12 people, including 11 foreign tourists, said Mai Tien Dung, deputy director of the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Dung said the company did not have the correct license to operate the tour of Ha Long Bay.

—Associated Press

5. Cayman Islands

Dr. Devi Shetty, a renowned Indian heart surgeon, has struck a deal to build a $2-billion, 2,000-bed healthcare "city" in the Cayman Islands. The facility will target American patients and insurers searching for discounted medical care. Construction is set to begin this year.

—Reuters

Caution spots

The State Department recently issued warnings or alerts for these areas:

Bahrain, because of the potential for ongoing political and civil unrest.

Japan, because of damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after an earthquake and tsunami.

Syria, because of the potential for ongoing political and social unrest.

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