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Under warnings of potential attack and operating from an undisclosed location in Paris, the Tourism Ministry's French desk was hard at work Thursday showcasing Israel as a potential destination, despite the ongoing operation in the Gaza Strip that is currently scaring off French tourists.
The Israeli Tourism Fair was planned long in advance of Operation Cast Lead and was originally booked at the Paris Grand Hotel, a member of the Intercontinental chain. However, after the hotel said it had received threats by a number of Palestinian groups, it backed out of the engagement. On short notice, a second Paris hotel agreed to host the event, but only on condition that its name remain secret to all but those who had confirmed their attendance.
Pini Shani, director of the Tourism Ministry's Overseas Department, said that despite the threats, which he did not believe to be extremely serious, many were still attending the fair, albeit in a reduced format.
The fair, which was not open to the general public, specifically targeted travel agents, Catholic and Evangelical clergy, and leaders in the French Jewish community.
"Many people understand that there is a war on, but that it will eventually come to an end, and that after the war, we hope that they will come to visit Israel," said Shani, adding that prior to the beginning of the operation, RSVPs to the event had been higher than they were last year.
"There is no doubt that this is a bit of a difficult product to sell now," admitted Shani, but he added that Israel had seen a 10-percent increase in French tourism in 2008.
Although currently 70% of French tourists to Israel are Jewish, the ministry is increasingly targeting a younger, non-Jewish audience.
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