The Marriott hotel in Nazareth closed its doors last weekend, leaving the city without a single hotel open for business. The second enterprise managed by the Hei Hotels company in Nazareth, the Renaissance, was closed in October last year following the riots in the Arab sector and the subsequent fall-off in tourism.

The president of Hei Hotels, Rafi Wiener, said yesterday that from a business point of view, the Marriott should also have been closed in October. "Because we knew that it was the only hotel that remained open, we hung on," he said.

The occupancy rate at hotels in Nazareth in December 2000 was 6.6% , as opposed to 34.4% during the corresponding period in 1999 - a fall of 85%.

"When the U.S. State Department again issued a warning to its citizens to postpone their visits to Israel, we realized that the occupancy rates would not improve and we decided to close down until things improve," Wiener said.

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This week, the tourism societies of Nazareth and the Amakim region will begin a joint campaign to encourage domestic tourism. Tourism Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak is expected to visit Nazareth tomorrow.

The Four Points hotel in Jerusalem was also closed at the beginning of the week and is scheduled to reopen in April. According to Eli Gonen, the general manager of the Sheraton-Moriah chain, which owns the Four Points, part of the reason for deciding on the temporary closure of the hotel while experiencing low occupancy rates was to make renovations and repairs to the hotel.

"We decided to take advantage of this period in order to invest in the hotel," Gonen said.

The occupancy rate of hotels in Jerusalem is expected to reach 30% in January, as opposed to 22% in December 2000, thanks to visits by various solidarity delegations.

The director-general of the Hotels Association in Jerusalem, Yonatan Harpaz, said that no other hotels had been closed in West Jerusalem, but noted that 29 out of the 31 hotels in East Jerusalem had been shut down. There are no signs of a revival for tourism to Jerusalem over the next few months, Harpaz said.