On a sunny Monday morning, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin led a cavalcade of Segways down the picturesque coastline of the Dead Sea in a counterintuitive, if not wondrous, juxtaposition between the past and present.
Nestled by the Judean Desert’s breathtaking canyons, with sweeping views of Jordan across the sea, a helmeted Levin, several architects, and members of the press slowly traversed a new 3 km.-long stone promenade, featuring dozens of canopies, showers, and elegant beaches.
Following several years of planning and a NIS 200 million investment, Levin traveled to the Ein Bokek resort from Jerusalem for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially unveil the new and unprecedented attraction.
Considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world, on Monday the Dead Sea hosted a burgeoning hotel development and vacation resort the ministry hopes will attract millions of visitors from around the globe.
“We invested hundreds of millions of shekels here, and we’re going to continue this investment in order to not just expand the beaches, but to promote the building of new hotels and commercial centers,” said Levin.
“What is important is to provide tourists an overall experience that includes the beach, the sea, great hotels, excellent restaurants and attractions with many things to do, so I believe that coming here will be an unbelievable, unique experience – especially for those who know it from the past.”
Indeed, Levin – who commissioned world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie to develop a sprawling master plan stretching 13 kilometers and including some 30 hotels, restaurants and public space – said he is banking on turning the Dead Sea into a world-class resort.
“I urge everyone, Israelis and foreigners, to come to the Dead Sea,” he said. “They won’t regret it, and the truth is that they won’t even be able to believe it.”
To attract a breadth of visitors, Levin said the ministry will launch a far-reaching, multimillion- shekel international PR and marketing campaign in September, starting in Germany and India, both considered major tourism markets.
“What we are doing for the first time is building an overall product of the desert,” he said. “We think that Israel has a lot to offer in terms of the Dead Sea, combined with the activities and the views. So what we’re doing is putting it all together and selling it as a product.”
According to Shimon Daniel, CEO of the Dead Sea Preservation Governmental Company, Ltd., the transformation of the beachfront area, including the highway leading to it, included having to raise both some two meters to avert flooding.
“Until today, this area was in great danger of flooding from the sea and looked like a refugee camp in Gaza. So after we protected the area from flooding, we decided to also develop it for tourism,” he said. “We have 14 hotels and more than 4,400 rooms, with five hotels directly on the water, and this is a beautiful place that people can enjoy. The promenade cost NIS 200 million, but more than NIS 1 billion is being invested in developing 10 kilometers more of the beach.”
Daniel added, “It’s not only development of the area, but also environmental protection facilities.”
While Levin and Daniel toured an elevated white Baywatch- style lifeguard station on the beach, Ofra Gazit, head of international relations and spokeswoman for the Tamar Council, said the planning for the area is centered on seamlessly combining natural beauty with leisure.
“The main thing is the accessibility to the sea and desert,” she said. “We don’t want to be like other resorts; the idea is to enjoy the nature around us by walking, cycling, taking jeep tours, and visiting a nearby reservoir with beautiful fauna and flora.”
“We want to open the region and build attractions, including lagoons and even a floating hotel in the Dead Sea,” added Gazit.
Barbara Aronson, a partner at Shlomo Aronson Architects, which oversaw the completion of the new stone promenade, said considerable engineering went into the project.
“We raised the area two meters to avert flooding, and were very interested in creating good access, including handicap access, which this area now has,” she said. “We’re now planning the continuation of the master plan, which will include an additional 10 km. of promenade and landscape design. It will be one of the most spectacular and longest beach promenades in the country.”
In approximately 10 years, Levin said, Safdie’s master plan will be completed.
Asked to compare the area to other world-class getaways, Levin said the growing Dead Sea resort is incomparable.
“Nothing is like being here,” he said. “And coming here is an experience that everyone will cherish for all their lives.”