Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz credited Israel’s tourism sector on Wednesday
with playing a major role in the country’s rapid exit from the global financial
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Steinitz, who was giving the keynote address at the annual Israel
Hotel Association (IHA) convention in Jerusalem, said that the hotels’
contribution to the economy was “greater than gold,” and particularly pointed
out the sector’s importance in creating jobs throughout the
“In order to remain with balanced employment rates, the
Israeli market has to create 50,000 new jobs every year. In 2009, we only
created 8,000 jobs, but in 2010 we created 100,000. I attribute much of the
fantastic increase to the blossoming of the tourism industry,” said
“The special advantage of tourism, and of the hotel industry in
particular, is that you employ people all across the country: in Jerusalem, the
Galilee, Tiberias, Acre, the Dead Sea and Eilat, and not just in the Center,” he
According to initial estimates by the IHA, Israel’s hotels
produced 12,000 new jobs in 2010, 12 percent of the total of new jobs
Steinitz said that in order to aid the tourism sector, the
Finance Ministry had to focus on three main investment avenues: marketing, the
construction of new hotels and the construction of tourist
The finance minister recalled that as a young student, he
used to work as a tour guide, leading groups of local and foreign tourists all
over the country. He said he had recently been reemployed as a tour guide when
he escorted OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on a visit to Tel Megiddo and
Caesarea during Gurría’s trip to Israel.
“On the visit to Megiddo, I told
Gurría that we were going to a site where there may not be much to see, but it
is actually one of the most important historic, cultural and religious places in
the world,” said Steinitz.
“I think that we can do more to make those
places attractive and accessible,” he continued.
“I think that we should
dig deeper, so there is something more to see and not only to explain about. I
think that we can build more cable cars so that elderly people can reach the
hilltops. I think we can build more boardwalks along our beaches and produce
more concerts and performances for people to go to. These tourist attractions
will pay for themselves and also contribute to the hotel sector by giving people
a reason to stay another night or two.”
Steinitz concluded by pledging
his support to the hotel industry.
“I promise to give tourism my personal
attention,” he declared.
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov also spoke
about the need for new tourist attractions and called on the Finance Ministry to
give him the discretionary freedom to allocate budgets for that
“I am the only minister who is not asking for more budgets,” he
said. “I only want to be free to allocate the money I have in the way I see
Meseznikov also spoke about a decision he faced regarding the fate
of the Dead Sea hotels and whether or not to move the six of them that are
closest to the shoreline, due to danger of flooding. Relocating the hotels is
only one of three options currently on the table and under investigation. The
others are building a barrier that would create a maintainable lagoon abutting
the coastline, or carrying out salt harvests in which all of the accumulated
salts were removed from the seabed.
“At the end of January, I am supposed
to announce which of the possible options I will recommend that the government
chooses, in order to save and develop the region,” said Meseznikov. “In order to
start building a hotel, it is necessary to look at the chance and not just at
the risk. Let’s look to the light at the end of the darkness.
the industry to share in creating a long-term vision for the
During the conference, the participants also heard lectures from
former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Gabriella Shalev, who spoke
about the effect that Israel’s image in the world had on local tourism, and from
Markus Luthe, director- general of the German Hotel association, who spoke about
hotel-ranking systems in the European Union.
The conference also featured
the announcement of the winners of the Council for a Beautiful Israel’s most
beautiful hotel competition.
The winners were Plaza Hacienda in Maalot,
Isrotel Dead Sea and Lot spa and hotel in the Dead Sea.
evening, leading hoteliers from Israel and around the world gathered at the Tel
Aviv Hilton for the launching of a new book published by the association,
chronicling 3,000 years of commercial lodging in Israel – all the way back to
The new book, titled Malon Orhim (Guest Hotel), examines
the Israeli hotel industry from the days of Abraham to today and will be
available in bookstores in the beginning of 2011.
The evening, which was
attended by President Shimon Peres and tourism ministers past and present, also
featured awards for industry leaders’ achievements in the hotel
Rafi Sadeh, CEO of the Fatal hotel chain, and Leslie Adler and
Danny Lipman, the owners of Atlas Hotels, received lifetime achievement
Manufacturers Association president Shraga Brosh received an
award for his assistance to the industry.
The conference members also
voted for a new president for the IHA. Ami Federman beat out current president
Eli Gonen with 99 votes against Gonen’s 70.