Two years after the Second Lebanon War, Haifa has rehabiltated its image and boosted tourism to a higher level than it was before the war.
The increase has also come at a faster rate than Israel as a whole over that two-year span.
After facing 33 days of Hizbullah rocket fire, people abroad pictured northern Israel as a war zone, Haifa's Mayor Yona Yahav said Tuesday.
Efforts began in 2003 to make Haifa a tourist destination, but with the war images engraved in foreigners' minds, Yahav said the city became concerned.
"We reached a point where we were afraid that the war would jeopardize all of our effortsâ€¦ to promote tourism," he said. "This is not a war zone," he said, listing the museums, history and geography of Haifa. "It is unconceivable that such a wonderful city is not on the tourist map."
In 2007, Haifa decided to conduct a study on tourism, and enlisted tourist marketing consulting firm IPK in Germany, Ernst & Young in the United States, and Geocartographia in Israel to help.
The results showed that Haifa increased its tourism by 30 percent from January-May 2008 compared with the same period in 2006, which was before the outbreak of the war.
Due to the Second Lebanon War, tourism rates in Haifa dropped significantly in 2007.
From 2006 to 2007, Israel's tourism rate as a whole increased by 24 percent, according to the Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Shira Kaveh.
During the first five months of 2008, the ministry found that tourism increased 47% in Israel, she said, bringing in 1.2 million travelers, rather than the 830,000 people in 2007.
Haifa "succeeded" in ridding the city of war images, according to Yanav. He said it was now mobilizing to promote Haifa to both locals and foreigners as the city that is the "heart of the North."
Haifa is preparing zoning for 10 new hotels that would increase the number of available rooms to 3000.
Speaking with local and religious leaders, travel agents and decision makers across the globe, Haifa is working to put the city on the "tourist map," Yanav said, adding that he envisioned travelers using Haifa as a base for travel in northern Israel.
Despite the city's rise in tourism, its economy was only growing by 1%, compared to the 5% seen across the country, according to Shmuel Gants, director-general of the Haifa Municipality.
"We're looking for some economical generators to increase the growth of the economy in the area," he said. "One of the generators is the tourism industry. This is why we are now making [the promotion of Haifa] our first priority."
The city was redeveloping its beaches through the creation of parks, restructuring the entire seaport and building the largest biotechnology center in Israel, according to Gants, who said that Haifa was concentrating on developments in nano, bio and clean technology.
To promote the city as a tourist destination, Haifa will be launching a summer campaign on July 1. From the first of the month until the end of August, many city attractions will be free of charge for any traveler that spends at lease two nights in the city.
Haifa had been working closely with decision makers and travel agents in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States to help bring more people to the region, Gants said.
The city was also looking toward Russia as a new market for tourists, he added.
The summer campaign in Israel had cost the city NIS 600,000, according to Moshe Zurich, general manager of the Haifa Tourist Board.
He added that so far, the overseas promotion and research study has cost around NIS 4m.