Gaza war deals blow to Israel’s tourism industry

Updated 28 September 2014

Gaza war deals blow to Israel’s tourism industry

JERUSALEM: It was supposed to be a record-breaking year for tourist visits to Israel. But all that changed when the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas prompted jittery travelers to cancel trips en masse, leaving empty hotel rooms and barren tourist sites in their wake.
The summertime fighting delivered a serious hit to Israel’s thriving tourism industry, causing losses of hundreds of millions of dollars and sparking concern that aftershocks may continue well after the war.
“Our challenge is how to prevent more cancelations. Despite a month having passed since the war, there is still an image among tourists that it is not safe to travel here,” said Oded Grofman of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association.
Israel’s war against Hamas came at the beginning of the peak tourist season, which includes July and August and runs through the Jewish High Holiday season and early winter.
Israel launched the war July 8 in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and to destroy a network of tunnels used to attack Israelis. More than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 people on the Israeli side were killed. Israel and Hamas signed a cease-fire on Aug. 26.
None of the casualties on the Israeli side occurred in the country’s tourist hubs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which endured rocket attacks but were largely protected by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Still, gruesome images of the war beamed around the world scared tourists away. One rocket that landed near Israel’s international airport spurred American and European airlines to suspend flights for 48 hours, sending a chill through the local tourism industry.
Before the war, the country hoped for a record-breaking year for tourist visitors. Since the second Palestinian uprising subsided nearly a decade ago, Israel has enjoyed a tourism boom, with as many as 3.6 million foreign visitors to the country last year. Tourism is now an estimated $5 billion industry and provides more than 110,000 jobs in Israel.
But the war caused a 31 percent drop in foreign visitors to Israel during that period compared to 2013, with the decline in August reaching 36 percent. The amount of visitors during that month was the lowest since February 2009, shortly after fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants. Israel’s Tourism Ministry estimates the losses to be upward of $544 million. A postwar influx of visitors for the Jewish holidays is expected to bring some relief, but not enough to salvage a miserable season.
Merchants in Jerusalem’s Old City, a top tourist destination, say they are still feeling the sting. The area’s cobblestone streets are typically filled with tourists purchasing chintzy wares and cheeky T-shirts and visiting the holy sites. But they’ve been eerily empty over the summer.
“When the Gaza war started it just went down,” said Kevork Kahvedjian, whose family has run a shop selling old photos in the Old City since 1949. “There were no people at all, none. It was as if there was a curfew or something.” Kahvedjian said his sales declined as much as 90 percent.
Beyond tourists, the war also drove away foreign acts, with many artists slated to perform this summer — among them Neil Young, the Backstreet Boys and Lana Del Rey — pulling out. Singer Lady Gaga did end up performing in front of a crowd of 20,000 people in Tel Aviv, however.
The slump in tourism comes amid a wider economic slowdown in Israel, which emerged intact from the 2008 global financial crisis though is now suffering from timid growth. The Bank of Israel has taken measures to stimulate the economy, dropping interest rate levels to 0.25 percent — the lowest ever — but some economists fear the country may be headed toward a recession. The Gaza war and its side effects may compound the sluggish growth.
Mirit Craven Schneider was among the droves of tourists who canceled trips to Israel because of the war. She was set to spend two weeks touring the country with her husband and three young children in what would have been their first trip to Israel.
“Once everything started happening, it was very concerning,” said Craven Schneider, a first grade teacher from Houston, Texas. “We didn’t want to be there with air raid sirens going off, and the kids having to spend time in bomb shelters.”
The industry is hoping to bounce back. Israel’s Tourism Ministry is set to launch new campaigns in markets in the US, Germany and Russia meant to target niche travelers, including Jewish and Christian communities. This year is largely unsalvageable, but officials hope that the numbers will rise again.
“People abroad might feel that things here are unsafe but this is a very, very safe country,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said. “This is exactly the kind of perception that we would like to share with all of our potential visitors.”


The forgotten history of France’s pioneering friendship with Jeddah

Written texts about Jeddah were not limited to diplomats. Great French authors such as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas also wrote about the city. (Supplied)
Updated 28 March 2020

The forgotten history of France’s pioneering friendship with Jeddah

  • Former French consul general shares the story behind his book about his nation’s long ties with the city

PARIS: In his book “The Discovery of Arabia by the French: Anthology of Texts on Jeddah 1697-1939,” diplomat Louis Blin, a former consul general of France in Jeddah, traces the history and evolution of his nation’s long relationship with, and views on, the city and the region.

He does this by presenting texts by about 50 French authors, works that span more than two centuries, in which they give their impressions of the region, and Jeddah in particular.
The quoted writers include literary giants such as Victor Hugo (“Les Misérables,” “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”), Alexandre Dumas (“The Three Musketeers”) and Jules Verne (“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”). Their writings about the French connection with Jeddah and the region reveal much interesting information that might come as a surprise to many Saudi and French people.
A regular visitor to Saudi Arabia, Blin spoke to Arab News about some of the things he learned while consul general, a posting that coincided with the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the French Consulate in Jeddah.
“The Jeddah Consulate was established in 1839 and was the first French diplomatic post in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said. “Marking that occasion triggered my interest in its history.
“I noticed that for 175 years, many diplomats had written and published articles about their postings and then I realized that, in fact, many other writers, journalists and travelers had done the same because Jeddah had fascinated many French people.”
As he researched more of these works, his plans for presenting the highlights he discovered quickly grew.
“At first, I thought about writing an article, which later became an 800-page book because of the exceptional material that Jeddah provided,” said Blin. “French orientalism is well known for its interest in North Africa and the Levant but it is completely unknown in the Arabian Peninsula.
“However, written texts about Jeddah were not limited to diplomats, many of whom were prominent orientalists. Great French authors such as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, (investigative journalism pioneer) Albert Londre, (novelist and journalist) Joseph Kessel and (philosopher and writer) Paul Nizan also wrote about the city.”
The works of these writers and many more provided him with a new perspective on the development of the relationship between France and Jeddah from 1839 on.
“The French wrote a great deal about Jeddah because it is where the first French diplomatic post was established, during a period of Franco-British rivalry in the Red Sea — though neither of those two countries managed to set foot in what is now Saudi Arabia,” said Blin. In those days, the British were in Aden and the French in Djibouti but, in fact, they were able to de-escalate their rivalry in the Red Sea.
“The first Frenchman who was interested in the region was Bonaparte, and the first thing he did after besieging Cairo during his conquest of Egypt was to send a letter to the sharif of Makkah. He wanted the sharif as an ally in his conflict with the UK because he was seeking to reach India, which required him to go via the Red Sea.”
This marked the beginning of political relations between France and the region, which soon began to grow and evolve.

Louis Blin

“Bonaparte’s successor in Egypt, Mohammed Ali, successfully conquered the Hejaz, all the way up to Najd, 15 years after Napoleon’s departure,” said Blin. “He did so with a French-led army because he had the wise idea of recruiting Napoleon’s defeated soldiers. This meant that he had doctors, architects, and engineers in his army and all of them reached Jeddah.
“The Egyptian army that conquered Hejaz was mainly composed of French officers. The first hospital in the Arabian Peninsula, just like the first barracks and the first pharmacy, was built by a Frenchman.
“Even the French adjutant to Ahmad Bacha — Mohammed Ali’s nephew, who was the incompetent commander of the Egyptian army — ended up being the de facto governor of Jeddah for three years before the British and Ottoman empires united to demand the withdrawal of Egyptian troops from the Hejaz. Bacha failed to conquer Asir and had to retreat to Makkah. His armed forces were led by a Frenchman who became governor of Jeddah, which was Mohammed Ali’s capital.”
While Egypt ruled Hejaz, from 1813 until 1840, the French connection with Jeddah therefore continued.
“This is a story that is little known among French or Saudi people, because many believe that Saudi Arabia was an Anglo-Saxon preserve, but in both facts and in texts, the French had more relations with Jeddah than others did,” said Blin.
“Jeddah is the gateway to Saudi Arabia, hence the title of my book ‘The Discovery of Arabia by the French.’ It was through the city that the French discovered the whole region. They did not venture inside (the country), unlike the British who sent explorers several times through Iraq or Syria. The French confined themselves to the Red Sea and the coastline.”