Tourists Cancel, Anxious Over War Atmosphere in Middle East
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Travel agents said Friday they had received cancellations and were being swamped by phone calls from anxious tourists worried about an Iraqi chemical attack on Israel.
Also Friday, an Israeli newspaper reported the United States has vowed to launch a full military strike against Iraq if that country attacked Israel. The U.S. assurance was part of a message sent by Defense Secretary Richard Cheney to his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Arens, Hadashot said in an unattributed report.
Defense Ministry spokesman Dan Naveh did not return several telephone messages Friday. U.S. Embassy spokesman Don Cofman would not refer to specifics, saying only that ″U.S. support for Israel is well-known.″
Sixteen Americans in a 40-member tourist group canceled at the last minute Thursday and many more cancellations were expected, said Ofer Eshed, manager of Ophir Tours in Tel Aviv.
″It is not the (Persian) Gulf crisis but the stories of the gas masks that are worrying American tourists,″ Eshed said. ″Tourists are asking if they will also be given gas masks.″
The cancellations could mark the start of a deep slump in Israel’s tourism industry, just recovering from a two-year decline attributed to the Palestinian uprsing. Tourism is Israel’s largest source of foreign capital, bringing in more than $1.7 billion last year.
On Wednesday, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein threatened to launch a missile attack on Israel if the Americans launched a military strike in the gulf. In April, Saddam threatened to burn half of Israel with chemical weapons if Israel attacked Iraq.
The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jerusalem has received many overseas inquiries about the situation in Israel, said the hotel’s public relations manager, Ezra Astruc.
″People abroad want to know if Israel has really mobilized its troops and if everybody has been given gas masks,″ Astruc said.
Both Astruc and Eshed said there was a lull in reservations for spring 1991, which usually pour in this time of year.
Tourism Ministry spokesman Yossi Shuval confirmed that reservations for spring were down and said some Americans might think twice now before buying a ticket to Israel or any other overseas destination.
″Those who have tickets in hand will still come but those who haven’t bought their tickets yet may change their plans,″ Shuval said.
″If there is World War III, people will prefer to stay home,″ Shuval said.
Another tourism official said most short-term cancellations over the gulf crisis would come from ″holiday makers from Europe looking for sun and fun.″
The official said pilgrims, who account for 38 percent of Israel’s tourism, are less easily deterred by troubles.
Before the Persian Gulf crisis, Israeli tourism enjoyed a 1990 comeback after the plunge set off by the Palestinian uprising.
Figures released by the Ministry of Tourism said the number of tourists coming to Israel in the first six months of 1990 was up 10 percent from the same period last year.