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International travel Web site Expedia.com plans to expand its activities to Israel, building a comprehensive online booking facility for travel arrangements to the country.
The launch, expected in August, comes after the Tourism Ministry initiated contact with the company last year, the company announced Tuesday.
"The entrance of Expedia will give an important boost to marketing tourism to Israel," said Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog. "We have already seen a dramatic increase in tourism through the Internet and I expect this project to make a meaningful impact on the industry here."
Expedia has partnered with Israeli tour operator IGT (International Group Travel) to launch the Israeli section on the Web site.
"IGT will develop its network of contacts with land suppliers - hotels, restaurants, etc. - to bring comprehensive information on the local market to the Expedia platform," said Uri Avrouskine, assistant general manager of IGT.
Avrouskine said he expects revenues from Israeli bookings to reach $3 million this year, triple the amount last year when Israel first had a marketing presence on the Expedia site.
As part of its Internet marketing campaign, which includes a presence on the Yahoo portal, the Tourism Ministry started advertising on Expedia.com, considered one of the largest online travel booking sites, in 2005. Tourism Ministry Director General Eli Cohen said the ministry has allocated 30 percent of its marketing budget to its Internet campaign.
Responding to concerns that the entrance of a large international player would harm local agencies, Jerusalem-based tour operator Mark Feldman, CEO of Zion Tours, welcomed the entrance of Expedia, saying it wouldn't have any negative effect on the local market.
"The more that Israel is put on the map, the better for everyone and the economy as a whole," Feldman said.
Avrouskine added that while Expedia would be marketing to travelers around the globe, there were no real competitors in Israel as online agencies, such as Gulliver, deal with outgoing travel.
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