After Tel Aviv recently hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, tourism industry professionals and Israeli government officials are hoping that the “land flowing with milk and honey” will soon be flowing with more travelers than ever.
Eytan Schwartz, CEO of Tel Aviv Global and a key player in preparing the Israeli metropolis for Eurovision, told AFP that the singing competition was “a platform to examine all our challenges as a small city and take us up a level as far as our abilities to absorb tourists.”
But after all was said and done, did Tel Aviv pass the crucial test presented by hosting a major international showcase like Eurovision? And what lies ahead for Israeli tourism in general? Some reports have noted that while Eurovision did not bring in as many visitors from overseas as Israel had anticipated, the television and social media exposure associated with the contest lays the foundation for an Israeli tourism boom in the coming months and years.
Indeed, Israel takes its tourism quite seriously. When a record-setting 3 millionth tourist in a single year arrived in Israel in November 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the visitor a private tour of Jerusalem. Just a year later, Israeli tourism during 2018 surged all the way up to 4 million visitors, with the government partially attributing the boom to its aggressive worldwide marketing campaign promoting Israel as a travel destination.
Yet the Eurovision challenge remains: Even if an additional tourism boom materializes, will Israel be capable of smoothly handling the influx of travelers? Is there a tipping point at which continuously record-setting tourism actually becomes unsustainable for Israel?
Perhaps the crucial piece to the puzzle lies not in Israel’s iconic destinations like Jerusalem’s Old City, Tel Aviv’s beaches, or the Dead Sea, but rather in the capacity of the country’s unsung and unexpected attractions to absorb growing numbers of tourists. The following is just a small selection of the Jewish state’s hidden gems.
Israel National Trail
Hiking enthusiasts who are already familiar with the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Camino de Santiago would be well-served discovering the Israel Natural Trail, also known as “the Shvil.”
Extending from Kibbutz Dan in the north to the southern tip of Eilat’s Gulf of Aqaba, this 620-mile route provides an eclectic showcase of Israel’s natural beauty. Where else can you explore green mountains, cities and towns, and endless desert landscapes, all within the borders of a country that is approximately the size of New Jersey?
Mount Hermon’s ski resort
When searching for novel slopes to navigate, the average skier would not likely think of Israel and its warm year-round climate. But Mount Hermon — site of Israel’s only ski resort — provides a diamond in the rough.
“Just a two-hour drive from tanning on a Tel Aviv beach, you can head up to Mount Hermon and be skiing down the resort’s 14 pistes, ranging from green to black, and complete with five chairlifts,” reports SkiDriven.com.
It is commonly known that the Dead Sea is both the Earth’s lowest elevation on land and its deepest hypersaline lake. Did you also know that Israel is home to the world’s largest erosion crater?
Charmingly shaped like a long heart in the Negev desert, the Ramon Crater forms Israel’s largest national park.
“Visiting the Ramon Crater can vary from a stop off on a journey through the Negev to witness the crater from above, or a longer visit to take in the history and science of the area, hike, drive or cycle through the makhtesh (erosion crater), and appreciate the unique geology that is on offer,” notes the Tourist Israel website.
A craft beer boom
Already internationally recognized as a wine-lover’s paradise, Israel now has an increasingly hoppy repertoire through a fast-growing craft beer scene.
Visiting beer aficionados are no longer limited to the Goldstar and Maccabee brands when they sample a pint in the Jewish state. Israel’s newly diverse homegrown brews can satisfy all palates and preferences. The Far & Wide travel website offers a great rundown here.
In the archaeological haven of Israel, a common rule of thumb is that if you are unable to find what you are looking for above ground, search for it underground.
Jerusalem’s tunnels are some of Israel’s most prominent tourist attractions. But apart from the wildly popular Western Wall tunnels, the below-ground water conduit of Hezekiah’s Tunnel is a comparatively lesser-known route worth exploring.
“The amazing engineering feat was presumably the work of King Hezekiah ahead of a siege by Assyrian King Sennacherib at the end of the eighth century BCE, described and alluded to in several biblical passages,” explains syndicated columnist Edwin Black. “Tunnel-diggers are said to have started at opposite ends, advanced towards each other, and, astonishingly, met in the middle to form a perfect conduit and gradient. For some years, biblical archaeologists have argued about the exact dating of the tunnel and whether it was accomplished under the reign of Hezekiah or another king. But for travelers, the main attraction is the ankle-deep wet walk through the tunnel — and its riveting nexus to ancient Israel.”