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(photo credit: Ariel Jerezolimski)
Concerned about the lack of new bookings it has received from foreign tourists since the war in the North ended, the Israel Hotels Association on Monday called on the government to embark immediately on a $30 million marketing campaign abroad to avoid a long-term industry crisis.
"We have no time to wait for the Finance Ministry to pass the budget, to transfer funds to the tourism ministry and for a marketing campaign to then take shape," said Eli Gonen, president of the Association. "We needed to take steps already two weeks ago when the cease-fire went into effect to work towards the recovery of the incoming tourism market."
Gonen added that an investment of $30m. in such a campaign would reduce the damage to the economy by $2 billion and claimed that for every day the government delays acting the harm extends further into 2007.
As the industry reels from the negative turn in tourist arrivals brought on by the war, the Tourism Ministry has concentrated its efforts over the last two weeks on bringing Israelis back to the hard-hit North for the remainder of the summer season but has yet to embark on a major "day-after" campaign abroad because its budgetary needs have been overshadowed by the debate surrounding increases to the Defense Ministry.
"The ministry started planning its day-after campaign even before the fighting ended with the aim of embarking on a campaign in Europe and North America," the Tourism Ministry said in response to the IHA demand. "In order to profit from our planned campaign and achieve its goals, we have presented a budget of tens of millions of shekels to the Finance Ministry which is currently awaiting approval."
Stressing the urgency of its demand, the IHA gave a bleak outlook for the September - October season despite an expected increase in visitors over the Jewish Holiday period.
"We are expecting a further weakening in the market in September," said Raphael Farber, chairman of the Olive Tree Hotel chain and vice president of the IHA. "Already we have employees in the North, Jerusalem and Netanya sitting at home and we expect the negative trend to touch Eilat and Tel Aviv next month."
Ami Etgar, chairman of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association said that since August was itself a vacation month, it was still too early to tell what will pan out for the chagim.
The Jewish market, he added, was still expected to come, but the general and Christian markets will drop by approximately 50%, he estimated.
Unlike the hotels, the airline industry maintained a more optimistic outlook for recovery, particularly in the North American market.
"We were very surprised by the recovery and are now operating at around a 90% load factor," said Avi Friedman, Israel country director of Continental Airlines. "During the war there were no new bookings and the industry was set back by about six weeks, but bookings for September and October are picking up."
Similarly, Air Canada said it has had a 20% rise in bookings since the war ended, while British Airways also reported an increase in demand over the last two weeks.
El Al, too, said it had a rise in requests for its most popular destinations over the chagim compared to last year, but the increase came mainly from its Israeli clientele looking to fly abroad for the period.
Meanwhile, as Israel Airports Authority figures showed a slight improvement in the trend of arrivals at Ben-Gurion Airport in the week after the cease-fire agreement, the number of arrivals in the first two weeks of August was 14% lower than the parallel period last year. That improved to an 11% drop after the third week, although most industry professionals did not expect a major improvement in the short-term.
"The recovery in tourism takes time," said the IHA's. "That's why we need to actively invest and push the market overseas."
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