New hotel rooms at various price levels as well as architecture geared to integrate with the desert could boost the Dead Sea’s tourism industry, experts have recommended.

The Dead Sea Preservation Government Company, together with a national interdisciplinary team, is assembling a comprehensive plan to submit to the Tourism Ministry within nine months for the rehabilitation of the region’s tourism infrastructure, the ministry said on Thursday.

This plan is part of a cabinet decision taken in February to allocate NIS 845 million to rehabilitate the Dead Sea, in an effort spearheaded – and paid for – by the Tourism and the Environmental Protection ministries. It aims to increase tourism in Hamei Zohar and Ein Bokek, and to help repair areas that were damaged by the rising water levels in the Dead Sea’s southern basin.

In January, the cabinet also approved an agreement between the Finance Ministry and Israel Chemicals Ltd., dividing the cost for a full harvest of the salt in the southern basin – necessary to lower the seabed of the industrial basin.

Salt from the firm’s work has raised the level of the water and it threatens to flood nearby hotels. Israel Chemicals subsidiary Dead Sea Works will pay for NIS 3.04 billion, or 80 percent, of this project, with the state funding the remainder.

As for the newest recommendations from the interdisciplinary team, Shimon Daniel, CEO of the Dead Sea Preservation Government Company, stressed that the plan will call to upgrade existing hotels as well as construct new ones, and to build restaurants, shopping centers and other attractions, the Tourism Ministry said.

Committee representatives also agreed that building hotels of different levels of accommodation and price is crucial, to bring in all types of tourists and visitors, the ministry said. Also key will be architecture that integrates seamlessly into the desert environment as well as a boardwalk along the Dead Sea shore.

Approximately 12 to 16 hotels will be built over the next 10 years, with 4,000 new hotel rooms in total, the ministry said. As part of the Law to Encourage Capital Investment, the ministry said it will also allocate NIS 9 million for grants to entrepreneurs who aim to develop or expand Dead Sea hotels – with applications to receive such funds available by August 15.

In 2011, the Dead Sea was the country’s most crowded leisure destination, with 857,000 visitors and 77% occupancy, as opposed to 75.3% occupancy in Tel Aviv and 67% in Eilat – up 43% in five years, the ministry said, quoting data from the Central Bureau of Statistics. Total hotel revenue for the region reached NIS 1.096 billion that same year, according to the ministry.

“This is an opportunity to design the region for generations,” Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov said. “We have made a significant step in the rehabilitation of the Dead Sea region and the tourism facilities in the area. According to the schedule, within nine months a new plan will be presented with the suggested design for hotels and tourism in the area.”

Ben Hartman and Nadav Shemer contributed to this report.

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