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The Tourism Ministry has announced that it wants to launch a NIS 26 million marketing campaign to boost tourism after the industry has been hit hard by both the global economic crisis and the war in Gaza.
"Without a significant and immediate increase in the budget from the government, it will not be possible to restore incoming tourism traffic," Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila said in a recent press release. "The significance [would be] lost revenue and job cuts."
Shmuel Zurel, director-general of the Israel Hotel Association (IHA), said the loss of income to the tourism industry can be compensated for if there is an increase in the marketing budget. But if the government does not approve plans for an increase in funds by mid-February, then it will be too late to recover from the lack of tourism.
But Zurel said he is sure the government will approve the increase.
A spokeswoman at the Finance Ministry said the ministry has to go by last year's budget until a new one is approved when a government is formed after next Tuesday's elections.
The marketing campaign will aim to show that Israel is a safe place for tourists, the ministry said, adding that work has begun on a program of activities to increase tourism, including advertising campaigns, participating in fairs worldwide and meeting with the largest tourism wholesalers.
This month the ministry hopes to target Germany, Russia, Italy and France. Soon thereafter, the plan calls for advertising campaigns to target North America and Britain, as well as varied marketing activities in South Korea, Poland, Brazil and China.
In 2008, tourism to Israel hit a record three million, but in the first month of this year tourism has fallen 20 percent compared to last January, ministry spokesman Shira Kave said.
Zurel said the war in Gaza prompted about half the Europeans who usually arrive on charter flights to Eilat to cancel their trips. In the winter, business travelers usually make up a significant percentage of visitors, but they have also been arriving in smaller numbers.
Zurel added that new bookings for trips to Israel have also significantly fallen from the same time last year.
The IHA has received reports of cancellations from tour operators, and said that less people are booking trips for the rest of the year.
Aviv Orenshtein, accountant for Lev Yerushalayim Hotel, said the hotel's capacity now is at 40 percent, which is half of what they had at this time last year.
Rafi Farber, vice president of the IHA and chairman of Royal Plaza Hotels, said his business has experienced a marginal 10-percent drop in hotel occupancy, but added there has been a drop in Jewish tourism because of the economic crisis and the Bernard Madoff fraud case in which many American Jews lost their investments.