Impact of Lebanese war on tourism in Israel fading

Although it may still be difficult to tell from the local headlines describing Israel's troubles, the impact of the war in Lebanon has faded markedly as far as tourism to Israel is concerned.

After a decline of 12 percent last year, the number of tourists arriving this summer is breaking records. In July, tourism was up 17 percent over the prewar July of 1981. One-third of the tourists are from the United States.

Last year's decline in tourism was largely attributable to the war in Lebanon , although the international economic slowdown was also a factor.

Hardest hit last year were resorts near the Lebanese border. This summer all the northern resorts, including kibbutz guesthouses in the area, are thriving.

One area that remains problematic from a security standpoint in times of unrest is the occupied West Bank, particularly the major towns of Nablus and Hebron. Local guides are alert to the fluctuating political temperatures there and generally can be relied on to avoid difficulties.

In general, however, tourists feel safe walking city streets even late at night.

Tourist agents insist that Israel's reputation as an expensive country for tourism is exaggerated. A package tour providing a week in three-star hotels with an attached guide and coach can cost $280.

Neverthless, the Tourism Ministry is moving to have hotel prices lowered at least 20 percent by next year to double the annual number of tourists by 1990.

Restaurants are expensive by any standards. Budget-conscious travelers would be advised to take along a small shopping bag and exploit the outdoor markets, where a wide variety of fresh and cheap produce can provide sustenance for much of the day.

These open-air markets also offer a colorful view of Israeli life from a different angle.

Although inflation of the Israeli shekel is somewhere between 100 and 200 percent annually, this is not a concern for most tourists, since the dollar is stable and dollar prices are fixed. A visitor should not convert to shekels for pocket money in large amounts at one time, since there is a slight increase in the value of the dollar almost every day.

Most cities offer free or low-cost walking tours, and these are highly recommended, particularly in Jerusalem. Usually your hotel clerk can provide particulars.

Also, there are well-organized commercial tours offered by local companies. For those interested in going on to Egypt, it is possible go by air-conditioned bus across the Sinai for $25 from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to Cairo.

Israel is a small country but offers a staggering number of sights and situations to visitors. Apart from a religious and historic background meaningful to almost every Western tourist, there are sunny beaches, the fascinating experiment of the kibbutzim, the view of a modern state rising before one's eyes out of the sands, and the current political events that occupy so much of the world's attention. One way or another, a stay in Israel does not leave visitors unmoved.

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