Last week the Israel Land Authority (ILA) and the Tourism Ministry announced that four luxury hotels will be built in the Dead Sea area, adding 1,000 hotel rooms for visitors to the unique spot vaunted as the lowest point on Earth.As The Jerusalem Post’s Eytan Halon reported, the development plan, managed by the Dead Sea Preservation Government Company, includes the construction of large shopping and conference centers alongside the hotel rooms slated for a new tourism strip between Ein Bokek and Hamei Zohar on the southern shores. The combined sum of project is NIS 95.4 million ($27.3m.). After nearly two decades without the construction of a new hotel in the area, these additional rooms are expected to increase the capacity of hotels at the Dead Sea by about 25%.Tourism Minister Yariv Levin announced: “We are continuing the tourism revolution at the Dead Sea and leveraging it as an attractive and modern tourist destination. Given the significant increase in the number of tourists arriving in Israel, I welcome the start of the process of building more than 1,000 new rooms at the Dead Sea. This is a great step forward on the road to dramatic change in the region.”According to data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the occupancy rate for Dead Sea hotels is roughly 70%.The area is rich in biblical history, from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife to the prophesies of Ezekiel. It also has unique geophysical nature and mineral-rich properties. Many visitors to the area are attracted by the stunning desert scenery and the gimmick of being able to post a picture on the social media of floating in the waters so salty that it is impossible to sink. In addition, the therapeutic qualities of the “Dead Sea mud” are world renown – even Cleopatra was said to have appreciated its cosmetic properties – and the unique climatic conditions are considered beneficial for people suffering from skin, joint and respiratory conditions, so much so that a lot of the tourism is based on visits on health-based trips.The Dead Sea area is so special that in 2011 it was a finalist for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World competition. But it is also a very delicate spot.It is evident to all that the northern Dead Sea is shrinking. The three main causes of water loss there are lack of water flow from the Jordan River because of water diversion projects, climate change and industrial use. Noam Bedein, who heads the Dead Sea Revival Project, says the equivalent of 600 Olympic pools of water are emptied every day from the Dead Sea. This means the water level drops by about 1.5 meters a year. Many of the old tourism facilities are now found at a significant distance from the shore. In addition, sinkholes have become such a prevalent problem that roads passing by the Dead Sea have had to be rerouted and former tourist beaches abandoned.At the other extreme, the southern part of the Dead Sea, where the construction is planned, now consists of evaporation ponds that were created by the salt and potash and other mineral-based industries. Here, the water level has risen because of the amount of salt dumped in the ponds and there has been much discussion of the threat of current hotels flooding because of the rising waters.While the efforts to bring new life to the area through tourism are welcome, they must proceed with great caution. For example, building the access roads capable of carrying the construction trucks in itself will have an impact on the environment, and that’s before the hotels themselves have been built and begin operating.The large businesses concerned with the massive hotel and tourism project need to take care that they do not destroy a valuable national asset in the process. For them, it would be cutting off the branch on which they are sitting. For the country, it would be a tragedy. Using part of the profits from tourism projects as well as the mineral industries to finance environmental preservation work could help create the correct balance. With its rich history, compelling beauty and unique therapeutic properties, it is essential to find a way to protect the Dead Sea region not just for tourists in the coming decades but for future generations.