(photo credit: David Karp)
As the annual flock of birthright trips kick off their winter tours, the Tourism Ministry forecasts that Taglit will contribute more than NIS 100 million to the economy.
Taglit expects a record 13,000 participants from 25 countries to spend 100,000 overnight hotel stays in Israel, 25,000 of those in Jerusalem. The ministry also anticipates hotels to reap NIS 27.7 million on stays from this December to January 2007.
Because every trip visits Jerusalem and most stay for multiple nights, Jerusalem is set to pull in about NIS 20m., or one-fifth, of the money taglit infuses into the economy, the Tourism Ministry said. Trips are free to participants because of subsidies from philanthropists and Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Agency, which gave $5m. this year.
Taglit tour operators must base their intineraries on a set of educational and logistical standards set out by Taglit, said Gidi Mark, Taglit's international director of marketing, with the ministry playing no part in programming.
The projected NIS 100m. only includes what Taglit spends directly on operating costs, such as hotels, guides, buses, and entrance fees. That figure does not include what participants spend in their free time or money they spend here if they extend their stay.
Director of Birthright Operations Bill Frankel said shopping is an integral part of the experience. "Participants want to shop while they're here, both for themselves and for gifts to bring back. With every trip we have overwhelming requests to visit Ahava or Naot."
Frankel said the trips almost always include shopping on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem, and if possible, Nehilat Binyamin in Tel Aviv for the crafts market on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Although Frankel said logistics is usually the primary motive for deciding where to stop for food or shopping time, he said that some of the decisions on where to eat are up to the tour guide.
"Most of the time we try and give participants a range of options - drop them at a mall or a strip where they have some choice," Frankel said. "In the event that timing or security don't allow it, the guides make the decision based purely on logistics."
Birthright Israel recommends that participants bring $20 per day for extra food, plus $200 for shopping. For a 10-day trip, that amounts to about NIS 1,600-1,700 per person. Of course, that is only the suggested figure, but even that means more than NIS 20m. (after being multiplied by 13,000 participants) in "recommended" spending money coming here this winter.
Taglit's record numbers do not include the 30,000 North American hopefuls on waiting lists.
"This sum is even more impressive when considering that most of the program's very successful activity took place during the intifada years, when the tourism industry was severely damaged," Tourism Minister Yitzhak Herzog said.
What are the most popular purchases, the souveniers North Americans bring back to represent Israel? "IDF t-shirts, hookas, and judaica jewellery," Frankel said.