The Israel Hotels Association wants to make tourism the country's "preferred industry," a move it said is supported by two-thirds of Israelis,
"We call for the creation of a change in the way the government and the tourism industry operate in the form of a 10-year vision," Avi Ella, president of the IHA said Sunday at a press conference one day before the IHA hosts its annual conference in Jerusalem.
Dubbing its campaign "A tourist for every citizen," the IHA set a goal of 7 million tourists within 10 years, saying the potential exists to make this a realistic goal. The call comes shortly after the Tourism Ministry forecast 5 million tourist arrivals by 2011.
Last year saw 1.9 million tourists arrive in Israel, being some 0.27 percent of the population size. Given a continuation of the 25% growth seen so far this year, approximately 2.4 million are expected in 2006, an increase to around 34% of the population.
Benefiting from this increase, the IHA and the Central Bureau of Statistics reported on Sunday a 36% rise in tourist overnight hotel stays between January and May. Combined with Israeli hotel bookings, there was a 14% increase for the five-month period to 7.5 million lodgings over the parallel period 2005.
To make tourism the country's preferred industry, Ella said the government needs to change the basis of its tourism operation, relate to the industry in a different way and organize it under a new format.
"The government needs to fix the budget so that there can be effective widespread marketing of tourism to Israel," he said. "All too often we use the geopolitical situation as an excuse for poor [economic] performance. It's in these times that we need to intensify our marketing efforts overseas."
Basing its model on the experience of tourism success stories such as Ireland, the IHA listed investing in infrastructure, the building of new hotel rooms, more competition in aviation and the establishment of a national authority to market tourism as steps required to reach these goals.
The IHA, the umbrella organization of approximately 450 hotels in Israel, will be addressed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson and Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog at its annual conference.