According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, a record one billion people will cross an international border as a tourist in 2012. That’s almost one in seven people on the planet.

The reasons in the upswing in tourism – until recently considered an indulgence of the wealthy – range from prosperity in developing countries such as China to a perception of a more peaceful world, the council said.

Is Israel getting its fair share of tourists? The answer is affirmative, but there is room for improvement. Following last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense, which severely harmed tourism, the Tourism Ministry announced last week that it is investing NIS 15 million in a new campaign overseas as well as one in Israel to promote domestic tourism to the South.

“After restoring stability and security to the South, now is the time to rehabilitate tourism to Israel and return to the upward trend from before the operation,” outgoing Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov said.

The ministry said it was expanding its marketing activities in the United States, Canada and Russia, targeting Christian communities and offering attractive vacation packages in the Holy Land for the winter season, alongside the spiritual experience of a visit to Israel.

The campaign in the US and Canada, in both English and Spanish, includes advertising in the mainstream and Christian print media, billboards, TV and radio stations, digital and social media, under the slogan: “Visit Israel. You’ll never be the same.”

In July, which saw a record 296,000 tourists visit the country, almost 70,000 came from the US, followed by 30,000 from Russia and 14,000 from the UK.

Israel is also seeing an increase in tourism from emerging markets such as Brazil, India and South Korea.

The ministry recently launched a campaign to rehabilitate domestic tourism to the Southern region under the slogan, “It’s so good you’ve come South.”

The campaign invites Israelis to visit sites in the South and acquaint themselves with the wide range of attractions there. The NIS 300,000 campaign will continue for two weeks on the Internet and in radio commercials.

The number of tourists to Israel reached an 11-month figure of 3.3 million in November, 600,000 more than in all of 2009. Figures show that tourism is bringing in a whopping NIS 18 billion a year to the economy.

Meseznikov said the cost of holidaying in Israel is being reduced as the ministry implements the recommendations of its Committee to Reduce the Cost of Vacations, primarily an expansion in the number of hotel rooms.

“Given the constant increase in demand, there is an urgent need for more hotel rooms that will increase competition in the industry and lead to a decrease in the cost of accommodation for both tourists and Israelis,” he said.

The Tourism Ministry has in the past year allocated grants for the construction of 18 hotels (with more than 2,000 rooms). The country plans to build another 9,000 hotel rooms by 2015, the ministry said.

This is expected to alleviate the stress on service at hotels, whose level has fallen as a result of an upswing in tourism, according to industry professionals. Hotels face large fines if they accept groups they end up not being able to accommodate.

Now that Israel is a member of the OECD, it is officially regarded as a developed country, which are said to attract more tourists. But, of course, much depends on the security situation being stable.

Tourism dipped dramatically during the eight days of Operation Pillar of Defense, but is said to be recovering rapidly. Before the hostilities with Hamas erupted in mid-November, the country was recording the entry of almost 9,800 tourists a day, but this went down to 5,600 on average in the second half of the month. (A cease-fire was declared on November 21.) It is our hope that for the sake of the tourism industry, the security situation in Israel remains quiet despite the turmoil in some neighboring states, especially Syria and Egypt.

It is astounding that most of the world’s Jews, not to mention Christians, Muslims and others, have never come to the Holy Land. We can only echo the words of the Tourism Ministry and urge them to consider visiting Israel during their next vacation!