Ministry fights to avert drop in tourism to Israel

Tourism Ministry launches campaigns to encourage travelers from North America and Europe.

By JOSHUA HAMERMAN
March 20, 2011 01:46
Stas Misezhnikov

Stas Misezhnikov 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The Ministry of Tourism is trying to prevent the recent turmoil in most of the Middle East and North Africa from hurting Israel’s tourism industry, according to a ministry official.

“People hear ‘Libya’ and they don’t want to come to the region,” Pini Shani, the ministry’s deputy director of marketing administration, told The Jerusalem Post. “We demonstrate to people around the world that although Israel is in the Middle East, it’s still a democratic country and a safe place, and life goes on here. In some places we will [increase] the effort to demonstrate this issue, and in other places we will go on as usual.”

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The Ministry of Tourism launched a series of campaigns last week aimed at encouraging tourists in North America and Europe to visit Israel. While the ministry engages in such campaigns every spring, this year’s efforts will cost NIS 45 million, a sum which Shani admitted is higher than usual.

The ministry’s biggest campaigns are underway in the US, Germany and Russia, where television commercials extolling the benefits of visiting Israel are airing. Smaller promotions have begun in Spain, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries.

Meanwhile, in France, the ministry is placing print and radio advertisements targeting Jews who typically vacation in North Africa.

Shani said the responses from French Jews and other intended audiences have been positive, but the ministry will not know for sure how well the campaigns have succeeded until after Passover and after the summer, when the Central Bureau of Statistics and Israeli travel industry associations have been able to compile data on tourist visits and hotel occupancy rates.

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Two weeks ago, Shani attended the ITB tourism fair in Berlin with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, who opened the Israeli travel booth. He said most of the comments about Israel from German tour operators were positive, and the largest German tour companies are hoping for an increase in bookings on trips to Israel this year.

However, “obviously, they are aware that that at some point that might be a problem because of the crisis in the Middle East,” said Shani. “The biggest concern is the lack of understanding of the Middle East. Many people in Germany and other places don’t know the difference in terms of size and distance between Israel and other countries, and when they hear ‘Middle East’ they think of everything under one umbrella.”

The ministry is concerned that German and other tour operators that combine trips to Israel with visits to other countries might drop Israel from itineraries due to this misconception.

Shani also said the ministry is concerned about a possible drop in tourism from the US due to problems in the region, but he and his colleagues do not think a major decrease will occur because the US is such a vast market. In particular, the ministry is confident that US Jews will continue to visit Israel in large numbers this year.

According to CBS, 220,000 tourists visited Israel in February, a 2 percent decrease from the previous year. Last month also saw a 2% increase in cruise arrivals and a 10% year-over-year increase in tourists staying for more than one night.

Israel received 39,065 tourists from the US in February, a year-over-year increase of 5 percent. European tourism to Israel decreased by 8 percent in February, to 127,196 people (tourism from Germany to Israel fell by 7 percent). Tourism from Asia increased by 23% in February from the year-prior period.

In January and February, Israel received 466,000 tourists, a 7 percent increase from the year-prior period, and 388,000 tourists staying over one night, a 13% rise.

However, the number of tourists to Israel coming via land crossings in February dropped by 83% to 5,000. The ministry attributes the decrease to occurrences in Egypt.

Shani said that he and his colleagues hope that as events in Egypt begin to quiet down, more tourists will visit Egypt and cross into Israel. He believes the number of day trips to Israel by tourists staying in Sinai, which has three airports, will bounce back because European tour operators are heavily invested in Sinai tourism.

In a press release, Misezhnikov stated: “The regional crisis represents a challenge and an opportunity for tourism in Israel. We will work through all the marketing channels with a variety of activities in order to position Israel as an alternative destination for those tourists who, until now, would take their vacations in other countries in the region. The Tourism Ministry representatives, working in 17 offices around the world, will expand their activities with local tourism industry representatives in order to increase traffic into Israel. Activities that have already taken place over the last few weeks in Russia and the Ukraine have proven that Israel is seen as an alternative for tourists wishing to travel to the Middle East region.”

Last week, Misezhnikov was in Russia, where he manned the 500-square-meter Israeli booth at the Moscow International Travel and Tourism Fair. This week, the Tourism Ministry will operate a booth at the Ukraine International Travel and Tourism exhibition in Kiev.

Last month, in honor of Israel’s abolition of visa requirements for Ukrainian tourists, the Tourism Ministry hosted a party and seminar on Israeli travel opportunities in Kiev, which was attended by between 300 and 400 people.

In February, 19,017 tourists from Russia and 7,151 tourists from Ukraine (excluding cruise passengers) visited Israel, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, declines of 31 percent and 28 percent from the same period in the previous year.

Israel received a record number of tourists – 3.45 million – last year. Shani said the Tourism Ministry’s goal is for Israel to attract 5 million tourists annually by 2015.

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