Israel has garnered 1.5 million tourists in the first half of 2008 and is on pace to reach its projected goal of 2.8 million visitors by the end of the year, an increase of nearly 50 percent, according to information released by the Tourism Ministry Thursday. In addition, 240,000 tourists visited Israel in June 2008, an increase of one-third over last year. Tourism Ministry spokesman Oren Drori attributed the rise to the country's relatively calm security situation and to the ministry's new marketing strategies. "There's a relatively stable situation in the area," said Drori. "We're continuing with our marketing programs and gaining momentum. We're ready to continue our campaigns in North America, Russia and Europe." Most of the visitors are coming to traditional destinations such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but tourism has also risen in areas such as Haifa and the North, as well as Eilat, which has become the direct destination for 10 weekly flights from around the world, as opposed to four last year. While he still expects significant rises in tourism over the next six months, Drori predicts that the percentage jumps will level out to 20%-30% growth, due to a weak worldwide economy and the relative strength of the shekel. "The economic crisis will level it out, as will the rise in gas prices," he said. "The weakness of the dollar and of other currencies makes us a more expensive market. In all, though, there are still people with enough time and money [to travel], and our campaigns are going well." To attract new tourists, the ministry has appealed to demographics that see Israel as less of a religious homeland and more as an interesting cultural spot in which to relax. This campaign includes advertisement of Israel's spas and wineries, and has resulted in increased tourism from central and eastern Europe. "We have a wide range of packages that sell Israel," said Drori. "Not just the classic packages directed toward Jews and Christians, but also new demographics including cultural tourism that has to do with culture combined with history and, of course, relaxation." One of the major marketing initiatives is the ministry's participation in international tourism fairs in major cities worldwide. This year the ministry will participate in fairs in London, Moscow, Berlin, Madrid and the United States, where it will showcase attractions as well as hotels and other tourist services. "The main point of the fairs is to create an interaction between us and the main agents of tourism," said Drori. "The idea is to create a presence in those markets."