The mixed blessing of tourism success

Minister mulls ways toward more hotel rooms, including fines on zoning scofflaws among landowners.

November 17, 2010 04:34
3 minute read.
LOCAL HOTEL rates are significantly higher than th

Tel Aviv Hotel 311. (photo credit: MCT)

Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov congratulated 200 professionals from across the industry for helping Israel achieve its most successful tourism year since the state’s beginnings, at the second annual tourism conference, held on Tuesday at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

Meseznikov said that now that tourist demand had risen, he would make it his top priority to see to it that more hotel rooms would be built in order to meet the increased demand.

“I could talk for hours about the numbers and profits that the tourism industry experienced this year and the marketing strategies we employ to identify and bring in new tourists, but I find myself concerned with one single issue that has been bothering me for the past weeks and months, which I would like to share with you, my partners,” said Meseznikov. “Paradoxically, this past year, and the past few months in particular, have been Israel’s best in terms of incoming tourists.

“So good, that we were unable to find them a single free room, no matter which class, which city and which rate. People who wished to visit Israel, to lodge, to cover events, to vacation, were rejected, simply turned away. We are beginning to lose tourists, lose incomes and lose jobs.”

In his speech, Meseznikov laid out the ministry’s plans to rapidly increase the supply of hotel rooms, both by building new hotels and by freeing up obstacles to operate existing ones. The plan includes things like transferring the task of marketing lands for tourism from the Israel Land Administration to the Tourism Ministry, establishing a state fund to guarantee bank loans for hoteliers and restructuring state priority maps according to tourism demand.

The most controversial plan presented by the minister was the proposal to tax and fine owners of tourism-zoned land who failed to use the land for tourism operations.

Meseznikov said that there were numerous places around the country that were available for new hotel construction, but that the landowners were simply sitting on the property waiting for land values to rise without utilizing them for the purpose they were initially marketed and sold for. Meseznikov said that the ministry’s legal council was currently examining the options on that track.

He also said he would approach the heads of local authorities and urge them to prevent tourism zoned land from being used for other purposes.

The minister gave examples of three cities – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Netanya – where lands that were supposed to house hotels were being used for commercial or residential purposes.

Meseznikov also said that after spending a year and a half in his post, he was willing to look seriously into the idea of building a casino in Israel. He said that building a casino in Eilat or Arad as part of a larger tourism complex that would include hotels and a convention center, was an idea that merited serious debate. Using Las Vegas as an example Israel could potentially adopt, he planned to convene a special committee to look into his idea’s viability.

Israel Hotel Association president Eli Gonen said he supported the idea of building a casino as part of a greater tourism complex, as a means of attracting more visitors. Gonen said that while Israel’s tourism numbers were indeed rising, he said that many of the new tourists – 80,000 – were day tourists, people who traveled to Israel and visited Israeli tourist destinations, but did not spend any time in Israeli hotels.

Gonen suggested that another way to promote the building of new hotels would be to grant permission for investors to build dual purpose buildings, mixing hotel rooms with residential units or commercial spaces, to ensure quicker return for investors.

During the conference the participants heard speeches by Incoming Tourism Operators Association chairman Shmuel Marom, Tour Guide Association chairman Yossi Weiss and lectures on things like state branding, digital marketing and characteristics of incoming tourists to Israel.

The conference continues on Wednesday with sessions on trailblazing new markets, internal tourism and marketing small tourism businesses.

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