Changing geopolitics are changing Israeli traveler behavior

Japan is undoubtedly one of the biggest gainers of Israeli tourists since the war began. Image Ben Julius
Japan is undoubtedly one of the biggest gainers of Israeli tourists since the war began. Image Ben Julius

One of the stranger consequences of the current war is the knock-on effect on the tourism industry sometimes far from Israel and the region. As geopolitical shifts take place, the destinations available and attractive to Israelis also shifts, often resulting in unusual consequences for businesses far away. Israeli consumers are now choosing destinations primarily based on a sense of security, followed by availability and pricing of flights.

Among short-haul destinations, most popular vacation destinations for Israelis in the first nine months of 2023 included Turkey, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Egypt (Sinai), and the UAE. Of this list, Turkey and Egypt (Sinai) are currently non accessible and considered unsafe, with no flights to Turkey and whilst the border to Sinai is open, very little traffic and no flights this season to Sharm-el-Sheikh. The natural winners of this are the resorts of Greece and Cyprus who are seeing a much greater relative market share already this year although.

Israeli consumers are known to be quick to react as travellers and also keen to discover new destinations, best evidenced by the super rapid growth of Dubai as a destination for the Israeli market following the 2020 Abraham Accords. The potential this provides during a crisis such as this for new markets to develop is dramatic, and it’s logical to expect that many destinations will see a growth in Israeli visitors in 2024 thanks to being considered safe, and reacting fast to create attractive promotions and accessible flights from Tel Aviv.

Data from the Israel Airport Authority for the first 3 months of 2024 already shows this trend reflected. For instance, whilst Turkey has a 100% drop in air traffic, Greece has just a 16.5% drop in traffic; Switzerland 25%; and Cyprus 30%. Considering the reduction in the number of flights and airlines serving Tel Aviv, the far more dramatic reduction in inbound tourists to Israel; and number of Israelis who are still not in the “mood to travel”.

The impact of this shift on the local industry in many regions is dramatic. In the Sinai, entire resorts considered the Israeli market as a leading source of traffic, with sometimes up to 50% of the occupancy coming from the northern neighbors. The economic trickle-down effects in a region which was also hit hard by the Russia-Ukraine war as tourist numbers from there were also heavily reduced, is indisputable. The cycle is ironic as tourism is a strong force for coexistence in this region, and when both sides suffer, we see the consequences in so many ways.

Further afield, the first three months of 2024 have seen Thailand receive a 1% increase in flight traffic from Israel, and Japan an 18% increase thanks to the expansion of flights to Tokyo. These two countries are both seen as safe and comfortable for Israeli travelers, and statistics from tourism platform Tourist Japan show there has been an increase of 23% in demand for multi-day packages in 2024 compared to the last year from Israeli travelers. Certain hotels in the country have even begun translation of materials into Hebrew, something that was unthinkable just a year ago when there were still no direct flights between the countries.

In some countries, the statistics don’t reflect the full story. Italy has seen a 71% drop in flight traffic in the first 3 months of 2024. The reason, however, is largely down to the large reduction of flights between the countries with the market dominated by low-cost airlines easyJet, Ryanair, and Wizz; as well as Italian airline ITA. Whilst Wizz and ITA now fly a much smaller-than-usual schedule to Israel, Ryanair will resume flights only in June, and easyJet in October. Whilst the numbers reflect a drop, demand from Israeli tourists for tours in Northern Italy throughout 2024 has been noted to be higher than last year by 15% – perhaps due to the fact that most flights are now centered on Milan and Rome; and the fact that Italians were one of the top source of tourists to Israel before the war broke out.

As the changing trends become clear, it will be interesting to see which countries will be able to take advantage in the short term by increasing flights and offers to the Israeli market. Along with that, it’ll be interesting to see, after the war comes to an end, how permanent these changes will be on the trends of Israeli consumers; and who will be the big winners in the years ahead.

About the Author
Ben Julius is the founder of Tourist Israel, Israel's largest travel website.