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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave his support to a long-term marketing program to promote tourism to Israel in a special cabinet discussion on Sunday in which Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog requested a budget of $150 million for an ongoing campaign over the next three years.
"A continuing long-term marketing plan must be created as a means to increase the number of tourists to Israel," Olmert said. "This requires a greater investment by the government and I therefore request that the Tourism and Finance Ministries work together to develop such a program."
Herzog and Tourism Ministry Directory-General Nahum Itzkovich requested a budget of $50m. a year from 2007 through 2009 for its marketing activities over and above the NIS 150m. currently allocated in the framework of the 2007 budget.
A Tourism Ministry spokesperson said the proposed marketing program would be presented for approval by the cabinet and the Knesset outside the framework of the 2007 budget, but did not provide a time-line for its passing.
In addition to boosting marketing activities as a means of increasing tourism, they emphasized the need to adopt a more liberal aviation policy to further encourage low cost operators to fly the Israel routes.
Tourism industry professionals reacted with relief to news of the discussion but still showed some skepticism after having called on the government to intensify its efforts to boost Israel's image abroad since the summer's war in Lebanon.
"I am happy that the government finally had a discussion on the crisis in the tourism industry," said Eli Gonen, president of the Israel Hotels Association. "However, now the government must produce the results. Everyone in the industry expects to see the allocation of sufficient funds that can be used to market Israel immediately in order to stop the crisis and prevent further layoffs."
In their presentation to the Cabinet Sunday, Herzog and Itzkovich forecast that some 300,000 foreign tourists would arrive in the country in the fourth quarter of the year, a decline of 37% over the parallel period 2005. This would bring the year end total to around 1.8 million. Last year, Israel saw 1.9 million tourist arrivals and 2.4 million had been expected this year before the war.
With the suitable marketing campaign in place, they said a level of 2.3 million tourists could be reached in 2007 and 3.3 million the following year.
This would boost employment in the industry from its current level of 70,000 to 85,000 next year and 146,000 workers in 2008. According to ministry figures, some 10,000 tourism jobs will have been cut by the end of this year, compared to last.
Ami Etgar, general manager of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, gave a more conservative outlook, however, even with the "very important" program that is expected to come out of Sunday's discussion.
"We forecast to only start coming out of the crisis in the second half of next year and that both this and next year will see the same 1.9 million tourism level as last year," Etgar said. "Even without the war, a much higher budget was needed for marketing. Now there's even more reason for it. I just hope something will come of the discussion, we need to see results from the government."