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MOSCOW, March 22 (Itar-Tass) — About 550,000 Russian nationals visited Israel last year, Israeli Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov said at a news conference in Moscow on Thursday.
He said “about 70,000 Russians had used to visit Israel yearly before visa requirements between Israel and Russia were abolished in 2007”. At the present moment, “550,000 Russian nationals visit the country. Thus Russia is placed second after the United States as to the number of tourists visiting the country, he said.
“We hope that in 2012 Russia will get to the leading position in the rating of visits to Israel,” he added. According to Misezhnikov, all in all 3.5 million tourists from different countries visited Israel last year.
Besides, “before the visa regime was abolished, only about 40 percent of Russians had come to Israel as tourists, staying at hotels, while the remaining 60 percent had stayed at their relatives and friends,” he said. “
Now the situation has changed – only 30 percent stay at their relatives during trips to Israel, while the remaining 70 percent stay at hotels, the minister added.
He said, however, that the year 2011 “was difficult for country’s tourism as the political situation in Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt affected the flow of tourists to Israel to a certain extent”. Thus, because of events in Egypt in 2011, Israel lost tourists who came to Israel from Egypt for a one-day sightseeing trip, Misezhnikov said adding that “Russians account for 90 percent of the so-called one-day tourists”.
Nevertheless, “at the beginning of 2012, the tourism sector of Israel has demonstrated quite good results. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the growth in the number of tourists visiting Israel was six percent in February as compared with the same period in 2011.
The minister also noted that Russian tourists in Israel are now opting for programs that include both a beach holiday, sightseeing programs and medical treatment. “Rural tourism is getting more popular of late,” he added.
Misezhnikov said “hotel prices are rather high, that is why the main task at the present moment is to create a good hotel basis that will make possible competition on the market and thus accommodation prices will get lower”.
Under plans of Israel’s tourism authorities, “about 3,000 hotel rooms are to be commissioned shortly”. “Our task is to bring accommodation prices down by at least 20 percent. This will let us attract more tourists,” he is sure.
Besides, Misezhnikov noted that Israel yearly spends about five million euros to advance tourism possibilities. “This money goes to advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on television,” he summed up.