(JNS.org) A record number of North Americans have traveled to Israel so far this year, and Israeli tourism officials expect to finish out 2016 with a 5-percent increase during the last year.
Some 535,000 Americans visited Israel from January through October, which is 10,000 more people than the previous year, Uri Steinberg, Israel’s tourism commissioner for North America, told JNS.org Thursday.
“This is the best year for tourism from North America,” Steinberg said. “Our forecast is for the whole year, we expect an increase of 5 percent.”
Despite the turmoil in the Middle East and an ongoing threat of terrorism, which makes some prospective tourists cautious about traveling outside the U.S., a rising number of Americans are journeying to Israel to experience the country’s history and culture, Steinberg said.
“Israel right now is a happy place,” he said. “You see a lot of smiling faces and people speaking different languages other than Hebrew, Arabic, and English on the streets.”
Israeli officials expect the tourism spike to continue into 2017, which marks the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
“Israel is on people’s bucket list,” said Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which offers trips to Israel.
JNF is gearing up for May 24, 2017, when Israel marks the reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War. The organization will host a ceremony at Ammunition Hill—the site of the pivotal battle that led to Jerusalem’s reunification—with Israeli officials, Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and others. JNF offers May 2017 trips for first-time visitors, interfaith families, young professionals aged 25-40, and donors (with a minimum gift requirement).