Israel Environment Bulletin Spring 1996-5756, Vol. 19, No. 2


by Mr. Motti Kaplan, Environmental Planner


Israel has long been a destination for tourism. Its major tourism resources are its religious, archeological and historical sites and, to a lesser degree, its natural resources. While tourism to Israel is dependent on the geopolitical situation in the region, a steady rise in tourism has been evident since 1991 the year of the Gulf War. In 1994, some 2.13 million people visited the countryan increase of 11% over the previous year. Tourism in 1995 increased as wellto about 2.5 million tourists.

Interrelationships between Development, Tourism and Environment

Space and Density Constraints: The scarcity of land and spatial resources in Israel is reflected in its population density and in the competing demands for spatial resources. Accelerated development and the competition for land resources have adversely impacted tourism resources since tourism is based on landscape and environmental features which require preservation, rehabilitation and maintenance. Moreover, an increase in the scope of tourism means increased population density, especially in peak tourist seasons and in sensitive and vulnerable sites.

Carrying Capacity: When planning for sustainable tourist development, the optimal relation between the needs of the population and the capacity of tourism areas and sites to carry visitor load must be determined. Constraints on the capacity of a site or area to "carry" visitor load may be the result of physical scarcity of space, low level of development, topographic limitations, site inaccessibility, infrastructure limitations and social and cultural constraints.

Calculation of the carrying capacity of a site or area will only become significant from a planning point of view once it is compared to demand forecasts. Such comparison will reveal the physical capacity for tourism, on a national level, and the sites in which demand exceeds supply or vice versa, on the regional and local levels. Analysis of these data will facilitate the identification of constraints on tourism absorption, on the one hand, while paving the way for new directions of development and new modes of management and organization aimed at increasing carrying capacity, on the other hand.

Environmental Aspects: The willingness to expose natural and cultural treasures to the general public by means of tourism and recreation, may adversely impact the resources themselves. Such damage may be caused by such factors as infrastructure overload, building and accessibility, air pollution, damage to land resources, flora, fauna and archeology sites, and visitor density or overload.

There is a clear link between environment and tourism. Cases abound, both in Israel and abroad, of areas which were closed to tourists due to accelerated development. One such example is the Mediterranean coastline of Israel in which sections have been closed off to the public to accommodate industry, power plants and residential areas.

Social Aspects: On a micro level, a link exists between density and the mode of interaction in specific areas. For example, the level of density on beaches, restaurants or entrances to museums is an important factor in the tourist experience. However, density level may be interpreted differently in different population groups and in different areas; some groups may actually view density as a positive component of tourism rather than as a deterrent.

On the macro level, social carrying capacity is a function of mode of life, tradition, social dynamics, type of tourism and interaction between local populations and tourists. The main issues relate to the impacts of tourist development on the host community in terms of employment, residential quality, social morality (crime, prostitution and gambling), etc.

Planning Trends and Forecasts

Two major planning studies have been conducted to outline the directions of tourism development in Israel over the next 10 to 15 years. The first is a series of plans for tourism development for the year 2003, and the second, Israel’s Outline Scheme for Tourism and Recreation, relates to the year 2010. Both plans anticipate a significant growth in the scope of incoming tourismreaching 4.5-5 million in 2010. If this trend continues, the number of tourists who will visit Israel in 2020 will reach some seven million, an especially significant number when viewed in the context of Israel’s small dimensions, both in terms of space and population. Israel should be able to utilize the economic potential of tourism in such a way as to derive maximum socio-economic benefits while preserving tourism, landscape, resources and the social fabric of the country.

Formulating a Planning Policy

Basic Assumptions

Israel’s tourism potential is largely based on its religious-historic heritage and on the spiritual experience which the tourist anticipates. Heritage resources are concentrated in a specific number of tourist and pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Acre, Massada, etc. Israel’s natural and environmental resources are limited and have many competitors worldwideboth in quantitative and qualitative terms. It is presumed that Israel’s natural resources are not key elements in the country’s tourism potential.

Israel’s population density is among the highest in the worldwith the exclusion of the area south of Beershebaand reaches about 550 people per square kilometer. This fact manifests itself in ever-growing pressure and demand for development in open spaces and increased use of environmental and natural resources. This is expected to further deplete the quantity and quality of Israel’s environmental resources and to diminish the quantity and quality of open land areas, water sites, beaches, rivers and other areas which are vital for tourism.

Israel’s natural resources with tourist potential are largely found in its nature reserves, national parks, parks, forests, rivers and seashores. These resources are already threatened by numerous pressures, as a result of building and development demands and visitor density, especially on weekends, holidays and vacations. The growing pressure of visitors and tourists creates congestion, density and environmental damage.

By 2020, over five million tourists are expected to visit Israel in order to tour its cultural and religious sites.


Classically, tourism to Israel has largely focused on historical sites, tourist cities and familiar tourist routes. This type of tourism does not create nuisances nor does it overburden open space resources. Other tourist cities in the world, no larger than Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, absorb tens of millions of tourists each year.

Internal tourism requires open space resourcescountrysides, beaches, parks, etc. These serve as green lungs, buffers or belts between dense urban areas and open space areas with visual importance.

Pure recreational tourism requires high-quality open spaces such as beaches and parks. This type of tourism may present a serious threat to Israel’s scarce natural resources.

Planning Frameworks for Sustainable Development

Sustainable tourist development will strive to direct the existing demand for heritage sites to centers which are not sensitive from an environmental viewpoint, namely to historic, religious and archeological sites which are situated near urban areas or are located in national or archeological parks.

Tourism to Israel will focus on urban tourism and will concentrate on established sites and routes.

Sustainable tourist development will not promote pure recreational tourism, which requires large expanses of environmental and landscape resources, but will direct such tourism to specific areas such as the Dead Sea and Red Sea coasts.

Israel should not promote the development of "mass tourism." Inexpensive tourism may require fewer services, but it uses and overloads major infrastructures. Tourism promotion and planning will be directed to the relatively more expensive segments of the market.

High priority will be accorded to the preservation of landscape and environmental resources, seashores, parks and natural spaces for the leisure and welfare of the local population. Natural and coastal resources will serve the additional function of integrating between the two types of tourism: visits to heritage sites and recreational tourism.

Tourism as an Environmental Tool

Scarcity of land resources and growing urbanization are problems of national importance which threaten the very existence of Israel’s social and environmental fabric and the development of a healthy and stable human society. This is especially true in the long term when Israel’s population will reach some ten million, and the country will be transformed into the most densely populated country in the world. One of the objectives of long-term planning is to create the necessary tools to preserve the environmental balance and establish the optimal relations between open and built-up space.

Coping Strategies

Two central means of preserving land resources in the face of development and preserving open spaces for purposes of tourism and recreation are possible: one is based on negative action ("thou shalt not"), the other on positive action ("thou shalt"). According to the first approach, critical environments from the point of view of importance and availability will be defined. These areas will be designated for recreation, welfare and leisure, and will be granted the necessary status within the framework of development policy and planning regulations. The second strategy will add active content into tourism development plans in important and sensitive areas. Planning and development frameworks will be land-intensive and will integrate the need for land preservation with the population’s need for recreation. These recreation areas will include activities which are space-intensive: wide sport areas (golf, races), forests for active recreation in the countryside, natural and artificial water reservoirs, and any space-intensive uses which respond to social needs and preserve the value of open space. Tourism may thus serve as a protective tool for the preservation and cultivation of environmental and landscape resources.

An integrated tourism-environmental system requires an accompanying economic support framework which will take account of profits to the national economy in the long-term including: preservation of state lands and natural and landscape resources in sensitive areas; advantages in terms of the water economy (through recharge and prevention of contamination of the coastal and mountain aquifers); preservation of property value of lands and assets in cities situated in the center of the country as a result of their proximity to regional parks and open agricultural landscapes; and contribution to a reduction in air and water pollution around densely populated areas.


Israel has the tools and resources to respond to the ever-growing demand for tourism. The tourism forecast for 2020seven million touristsmay be either blessing or bane depending on Israel’s ability to guide this sector toward sustainable development. Wise planning and careful monitoring of the link between tourism, environment and society will ultimately lead to the achievement of national planning goals, economic well-being, protection of open spaces, and preservation of natural and heritage resources.