(photo credit: )
The Tourism Ministry, which recently set a goal of five million tourists by 2012, has extended that date to 2015 due to the economic situation, ministry spokeswoman Shira Kave said this week.
Tourism Ministry director-general Shaul Zemach announced the 2012 goal last week at the 15th annual Mediterranean Tourism Market exhibition, held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Kave said.
Zemach also told leaders in the market to "give preference to local tourism in the year 2009," according to a press release on the event.
Eli Gonen, president of the Israel Hotels Association, also spoke and asked that NIS 150 million be added to the budget for tourism marketing.
Gonen, who had written a letter to the incoming prime minister to ask for help with the crisis in the tourism industry, added that an additional NIS 30m. was needed for the hotel industry.
Zemach is also asking for an increase in land allocation for new hotels to accommodate these millions of tourists.
Gonen said hotels were available to host the current high volume of tourists. Three million tourists visited Israel in 2008.
Later, Gonen told The Jerusalem Post that if the increase in the marketing budget were not approved immediately, tourism would suffer in 2010 as well as this year.
Gonen also said tourism should be made a priority, and that political spats over flight policies should be stopped.
Meanwhile, Izzy Borovich, former chairman of El Al, said that unions, big companies, workers groups and conference organizers should give preference to Israel for holding their events.
During the fair's opening ceremony, which was attended by ambassadors, Israeli tourism leaders and foreign guests, Zemach said the goal was to market Israel as a safe and worthwhile place to visit.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also attended, and spoke about his city and its centennial year, saying everyone should come and join the party.
Meanwhile, Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin urged the foreign community to tell its citizens to visit Ashkelon.
El-Al president Haim Romano also spoke and said El Al would be adding a flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Brazil was one of four new countries with stands at the exhibition this year, along with Latvia, Panama and Montenegro.
Other participating countries included Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Croatia, Romania, Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, India, Korea, Thailand and Tanzania.
In addition, over 200 local tourism companies participated in the fair, including hotels, tour operators, recreation companies and airlines.
Anat Nissim of the Galilee Tourism Association said tourism from both foreigners and Israelis had dropped 25 percent from last year.
"We're making efforts to bring Galilee back to the public," she said.
David Ashkenazi, general manager of Grand Hotels, said occupancy had dropped by about 20% to 25%, but new reservations were starting to come in.
The exhibition also boasted tables selling products such as glassware and jewelry from the South.
A survey by the Geocartography Research Institute showed a 9% increase in Israelis planning to vacation in Israel this year, bringing the number to about 27%. Some 66% of Israelis will go on vacation this year, the survey showed.
The percentage of Israelis taking vacations abroad will decrease by 4%. According to the survey, of those 20% going abroad, 64% will travel to Europe, 39% to America, 19% to Greece, the Greek islands and Cyprus, 17% to the Far East, 16% to Turkey and about 5% to Sinai.
James Park, deputy director of the Korea National Tourism Organization, said there had been a 20% increase in Israeli tourism to Korea last year. Park said he expected even more Israelis this year because Korea Air started a direct flight between Seoul and Tel Aviv in September 2008.
Marko Sabljo, representative of the Zagreb Tourist Board in Croatia, said Croatia was a destination for Israelis because of the cities Dubrovnik and Zagreb. Dubrovnik is a historic city, while Zagreb has a Jewish community of about 1,500, Sabljo said.
He added that he hoped the Israeli tourism numbers would stay the same this year.
A representative of Czech Tourism said the Czech Republic usually received about 150,000 tourists from Israel and may receive more because of the current shaky ties with Turkey. She noted that there were many attractive sites to visit, aside from the popular Prague.