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Tourism minister heads to Nashville for Christian media summit

Over half of the tourists visiting Israel are Christians and about a fifth of visits are defined as pilgrimage.

Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz in Riyadh, Sept. 26, 2023. Photo: Courtesy.
Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz in Riyadh, Sept. 26, 2023. Photo: Courtesy.

Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz departed for Nashville, Tennessee, on Sunday, to participate in the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Christian Media Convention.

More than 4,000 Christian communicators are participating in the event, the world’s largest for Christian media.

During his visit, Katz will work to strengthen collaboration with tour operators and opinion leaders in the Christian world, with a focus on expanding tourism to Israel.

He is slated to meet with marketing and media companies that specialize in the Christian world, including TBN, the largest religious television network in the United States, and the Salem Media Group, an American radio broadcaster, internet content provider and magazine and book publisher.

In addition, the minister will meet with representatives of the Internova Travel Group and the director of the United States Tour Operators Association.

Ahead of his departure, Katz expressed gratitude for the evangelical community’s support for Israel, especially after Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre. He also emphasized that the safety of tourists remains a top priority and that most Christian sites in Israel are operating as usual despite the ongoing war.

“The year 2024 will be characterized by faith-based and solidarity tourism. The NRB convention is a key event to garner support and promote travel to Israel,” said Katz.

“The American market is the largest source market for Israel, with the highest figures for incoming tourism and very significant for the Israeli economy. Demand from the U.S. is at a peak. We must maintain the momentum, and especially in light of the war, encourage as much as possible tourism to Israel,” he added.

The summit, which begins on Tuesday, will include a booth set up by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism that highlights the country’s Christian sites. The booth will also provide a platform for representatives from Israel, including tour operators, social organizations, business entrepreneurs and others looking to create collaborations.

The war against Hamas continues to take its toll on Israel’s tourism industry, with the country seeing only 58,600 tourist visits in January, compared to the 257,400 tourists who visited during the same month last year, marking a 77% decrease.

According to monthly figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), only 500 single-day visits were registered, compared to 14,000 in January 2023, a 96% decrease.

Also, far fewer Israelis are traveling abroad. In January 2024, 281,400 Israelis traveled to other countries, down from 611,100 in January 2023, a decrease of more than 50%.

Last month, CBS released annual tourism numbers for 2023, which dropped off sharply toward the end of the year; the war broke out during the busiest tourism quarter of the year, which includes the Christmas holidays.

Three million tourists came in 2023, compared to the 4 million that had been predicted. In 2019, Israel enjoyed a record-breaking year with 4.5 million tourists.

The top 10 countries for incoming tourism last year were the United States, France, England, Russia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Poland, Canada and Spain.

According to the 2023 Inbound Tourism Survey conducted by the ministry, the United States is the largest source country for incoming tourism, accounting for almost one-third of the total. An increase of 12% in tourist arrivals from the U.S. was registered in 2023 compared to the previous record year of 2019. American tourists spend about 50% more than the average of other nationalities.

More than half (56%) of the tourists visiting Israel are Christians and about a fifth (21%) of all tourism to Israel is defined as pilgrimage.

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