Tourism to Holy Land Crippled by Persian Gulf Crisis With PM-Egypt-Tourism Blues.
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Most days, Abdel Raouf Abu Assab sits at the door of his souvenir shop in Jerusalem’s Old City, smoking his water pipe and waiting for tourists.
These days he waits in vain.
″Since the gulf crisis, there is almost no business at all,″ Abu Assab complained.
Although Israel is hundreds of miles from the Persian Gulf, the headlines created by Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait have scared away travelers from the Holy Land, government and industry officials said.
Some hotels in Arab east Jerusalem, largely dependent on Christian visitors from the West, say 80 percent of their September bookings were canceled. Hotel managers fear the traditional Christmas traffic will be down sharply, too.
In Jewish areas, it is more difficult to judge the impact of the gulf crisis because foreigners are just beginning to arrive to celebrate the ″High Holidays″ in Israel.
Jerusalem’s Hilton Hotel was fully booked for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and for the eight-day Feast of the Tabernacles on Oct. 4-11.
Motti Verses, a spokesman for the hotel, said that ″after that, we haven’t suffered massive cancellations but, for sure, people are hesitating to book.″
Tel Aviv travel agent Harry Kalman said business travel was continuing but that holiday business was suffering.
″We get Telexes every day from Germany, Holland, Denmark,″ Kalman said. ″They want to know if it is safe to come. . . . There have been a lot of cancellations.″
Tourism is one of Israel’s highest foreign exchange earners, netting about $1.8 billion a year, the government says. Last year, 1.4 million tourists arrived, and the government had hoped for a record 2 million this year.
Those predictions now seem too optimistic.
Moti Debi, director of Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, reported a 15 percent drop in the number of passengers who passed through the airport in the first two weeks of September, saying, ″To my great sorrow, the gulf crisis has caused a sharp decrease in the movement of passengers.″
Yossi Shoval, spokesman for Israel’s Tourism Ministry, also blamed the slowdown on Israel being tarred with the same brush as the gulf.
″We are 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) from Baghdad, but in the perception of the TV viewer we are right there,″ Shoval complained.
Shoval said he believed neighboring countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Greece also would suffer a drop in tourism from the gulf crisis. Egypt, for example, has reported overall tourism is off 40 percent since August.
In Arab east Jerusalem, the timing of the gulf crisis is particularly cruel. Most hotels had only recently begun to recover from a sharp drop in visitors during the first two years of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Fuad Abul Hajj, general manager of the National Palace Hotel in Arab east Jerusalem, said an average of 85 percent of his hotel’s 108 rooms were occupied in March, April and May, much higher than last year.
″Now we have had so many cancellations - 80 percent of our September bookings,″ Abul Hajj said.
He said Christian tour groups also were backing out of reservations made for October and November, the run-up season to Christmas.
″There is nothing we can do,″ he said with resignation. ″How can you expect people to come to the Middle East with that kind of crisis in the gulf?″
Souvenir salesman Abu Assab concurred. ″When there is stability, there are tourists,″ he said. ″When there is fear, they go away.″
Even government-sponsored events have not been immune to the gulf crisis:
-One-third of the guests invited to the opening of the Israel Museum’s new modern art wing Sept. 3 failed to show, including the family of the principal American benefactor.
-Twenty of the 90 American Jews who were to be part of the prime minister’s mission of major contributors in August canceled their trips.
The Israeli tourism industry faced an added problem this week. The Finance Ministry has recommended tourism services be subjected to a 16 percent tax to help raise money for the Soviet immigrants. A committee is studying the proposal.
″It is coming at a particularly bad time,″ said Moshe Amir, managing director of the Israeli Hotel Association. ″We face strong competition from other countries in the Middle East, and raising prices could really hurt.″