Jerusalem-based tourism professionals criticized the Tourism Ministry for not responding effectively to the effects the summer's war had on incoming visitors and warned of massive job cuts if the government does not invest more in marketing the country's image abroad.
"There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the current crisis in tourism," Raphael Farber, vice president of the Israel Hotels Association and head of the group's Jerusalem division said Tuesday. "The government is not performing its duty. In Jerusalem alone, we expect retrenchments of between 4,000 and 5,000 people in different sectors of the tourism industry, most of them manual workers."
Speaking at a press conference about the state of tourism in the capital city, Farber's comments come after the municipality reported one of the most successful holiday seasons in years, surpassing even 2005 levels. Around 1.5 million people visited Jerusalem over the week-long Succot festival, a rise of 30 percent over last year.
Looking ahead, however, Farber said Jerusalem hotels, which rely heavily on foreign incoming tourists, were receiving no bookings for the winter months and that they were still suffering from images caused by the July war.
Meanwhile, Haim Rogatka, the CEO of Mini Israel who represented the tourism attractions sector at the meeting, said the country's 200 attractions were preparing to cut 2,500 jobs countrywide, out of the 8,000 currently employed at the sites.
"In the coming year, revenues generated by the attractions will drop from $100 million to $30m. to $40m.," he said.
In response, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said the ministry allocated NIS 35m. for marketing activities as soon as the war ended and that it has secured a NIS 100m. marketing budget for 2007. Herzog added that he has requested an increase to next year's budget from the finance ministry.
Herzog told foreign journalists this week he hopes Israel will partially recoup losses to the industry incurred by the war and that the end of year tourist count may reach 2 million. The IHA said Tuesday it expects 1.6 million tourists by year end. The latest figures show that between January and August 1.33 million tourists had arrived in the country.
The ministry said in a separate statement that it has spent NIS 23m. on advertising abroad, including campaigns on TV, radio, the print press and Internet. Some NIS 12m. is being spent across Europe and NIS 10m. in the US.
For those in the industry, however, there is a feeling of "too little, too late" and professionals maintained their belief that the industry was in crisis and that no recovery was in sight.
"The government claims there is no crisis and we all need to evaluate the situation," Farber said. "We believe the situation today resembles tourism's prolonged reaction during the Intifada, rather than the quick recovery it made after the Gulf war."
Evading questions about their own responses to the situation, including why more was not being done by Jerusalem businesses to make the city a more affordable and attractive destination, the group instead reiterated its position of reliance on the government's activities.
More confirmation that the war's impact was felt well beyond the North, came from Ezra Attia, chairman of the National Trade Association, who said that between July and September the turnover of tourist-related businesses in Jerusalem fell 75% compared to the parallel period last year. Caf s and restaurants had a 30% decline in revenues for the period, he said.
Not to be outdone, Dani Biran, managing-director of the Israel Tour Guides Association reported that tour guides had 20% less business this October than last.
An emergency discussion in the Knesset on the state of tourism in the country has been scheduled for today.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.