Yes Minister is a satirical British sitcom that BBC television first broadcast
in the early 1980s. Set principally in the office of a British cabinet minister
in the Department of Administrative Affairs, the show follows his attempts to
formulate and enact legislation and effect departmental changes. The crux of the
comedy centers on his struggles with the civil servants who thwart his
Fast-forward to 2013, and the Tourism Ministry welcomes its
latest leader, the honorable Uzi Landau, representing Yisrael
Landau, born in 1943, has both a BA and a master’s in
mathematics from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He earned a PhD
in engineering from Boston’s MIT. But while he may know the shape of an
isosceles triangle and be an expert in analyzing Fermat’s last theorem, his
colorful background does not necessarily denote aptitude in the field of
Yes, Minister Landau, your latest cabinet position is critical
to the country’s economy.
Let’s deal with the facts as you begin
analyzing the state of tourism here.
A recent survey at hotels.com found
Israeli hotel rates some of the most expensive in the world. In fact, we
successfully jumped 17 places in that ranking over the last four years, putting
us close to hotel rates in New York or Moscow. In a review of over 150,000
properties, our average rate of $203 per night is higher than a good night’s
sleep in a London, Amsterdam or Rome hotel – to say nothing of how much more
affordable it is to stay in Paris or Frankfurt.
And tourists don’t stay
holed up in their hotels throughout their stay. Throw in our trains, our shops,
our taxis, the price of gas and restaurants, and our slippery slope to high
Last year was a record year of tourism to Israel.
Almost 2.9 million tourists entered our country by air, sea or land. It’s an
impressive figure, to be sure, but it is barely 20 percent more than it was 13
In a list of 10 categories rated by tourists, belief in our
police scored the highest (it seems that the Israel Police’s desire to assist
tourists forms a welcome contrast to our taxi drivers’ shoddy reputations). Our
lowest rating, not surprisingly, had to do with fear of terrorism, but right
above it was how expensive everything was.
WE HAVE been blessed in the
recent past with activist tourism ministers who have traveled the world
highlighting the positive things the country has to offer. Travel industry
professionals have praised their work in promoting Israel at every
Assisting in advocating “Open Skies,” working with the
Knesset to pass legislation that has dispensed with visiting Russians’ and
Ukrainians’ need for visas, bemoaning the slow process of approving new hotels
and renovating older ones, Landau’s predecessor Stas Meseznikov leaves big shoes
His inglorious sacking at the hands of Yisrael Beytenu leader
Avigdor Liberman was never fully explained. Meseznikov’s former bodyguards
claimed that their boss habitually slipped away from them at night and visited
night clubs, where he would get drunk regularly, causing them to extend their
work hours. But hung over or not, he was impressive in championing
Now the stage is set for taking more dramatic measures, but I
have doubts about whether Landau is the right man for the job. His background is
one of defense issues; his political career shows his activism in foreign
affairs and security matters, and his contributions have been well received but
carry little weight in the milieu that surrounds a tourism minister.
job doesn’t require a bon vivant exchanging shots of whiskey with tourists; he
doesn’t need to get down at night clubs with the young tourists enjoying the Tel
Aviv nightlife. He does, however, need to set the tone, to offer a welcome to
all who wish to visit the country. He must seek out new markets and strengthen
existing ones, chastise those hotel owners who keep their prices high and their
room occupancies low and then request government assistance to bail them out. He
needs to whip his civil servants into working with public relations
professionals in formatting cutting- edge technology to promote the
THE PRESIDENT of the United States has just finished his journey
to Israel, bringing with him hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists and
opinion makers, and they saw a very condensed picture of what the country has to
offer. Has the ministry collected these journalists’ contact details for its
database? Has it formulated a plan to stay in touch, peppering them to explore
the country again in all its finery? Did each correspondent get a kit on Israel?
Another example of an area the ministry should tap is a small but influential
group of working visitors in our country: foreign athletes. Much has been made
of the despicable reaction that two Chechen players received at a Beitar
Jerusalem soccer game, but it is also galling that year after year, the large
contingents of foreign basketball players are left to their own devices in
Israeli society. Where is our Tourism Ministry to reach out to these athletes,
offering them guided tours of the country, explaining in depth some of our
history, which would likely ring a bell with them? There is, to date, no formal
Tourism Ministry committee of travel professionals and civil servants tasked
with promoting Israel.
Lame campaigns surface to “Adopt a Tourist,” with
laughable results. We’re cajoled to smile and invite tourists into our
Just throwing out a desired number like five million tourists per
annum in the next five years is not sufficient. As in any successful business, a
proper plan must be created, financed and implemented.
We may not be able
to change the way our society treats tourists; we still need to focus on how we
treat each other. But we do need to make the service industry more amenable to
those tourists. We won’t be able to offer them the cheapest accommodations, but
we can most certainly offer them the richest experience.
you have a vital job ahead of you.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours