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If August might reasonably have been described as East Asia Month at the Tourism Ministry, September is shaping up to be mostly about Russia and North America.
Ministry officials announced last week the imminent start of a new ad blitz in Moscow, the second phase of the ministry's 2007 campaign promoting Israel in Russia. The $1.2 million ad effort, which will appear in newspapers and magazines and on billboards in the Russian capital, will last between September and November and follows an earlier campaign that ran between January and April. A ministry poll claims the first segment of the campaign proved unusually effective, with a large portion of survey participants expressing awareness of the campaign and 82% of them showing interest in a visit to Israel.
The current Russian marketing effort is no doubt small compared to the promotional efforts to come
- if Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich succeeds in ongoing efforts to get the visa requirement dropped for Russian visitors to Israel. The initiative, which initially met with opposition from the Foreign and Public Security Ministries, won their backing late last month and now awaits discussion and a vote by the cabinet. Approval of the plan is likely to be made contingent on a reciprocal visa cancellation for Israelis by the Russian government, and would likely make Aharonovich one of the government officials meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov during the latter's scheduled visit to Israel in October.
Aharonovich argues that canceling the Russian visa requirement would double or triple the number of Russian visitors to Israel by 2010.
Just over 77,000 Russians visited the country in the first seven months of 2007, an increase of 76 percent over the same period the previous year.
Deals reached with North American travel companies
While the Russian visa issue remains unsettled, new deals have been concluded with three of the major North American tourism "wholesalers." The Tourism Ministry announced last week that it had signed agreements with Grand Circle, Certified and Travel Impressions, the last a subsidiary of American Express.
The deals outline the shared development and promotion of travel packages to Israel, with the Tourism Ministry and the the three companies splitting the work and all four parties contributing roughly $1 million for the effort. The $1 million being contributed by the Tourism Ministry is part of a $20 million North American marketing campaign that kicked off two months ago and is the largest ever launched by Israel on the continent.
The new deals mark progress, naturally, for the Tourism Ministry's marketing campaign, but are not, it hopes, the end of the story. Ministry officials have their eye on nearly 40 additional North American travel wholesalers with whom they'd like to complete similar deals.
Visits to Israel by North Americans rose sharply in July, up 49 percent over the same war-ravaged month the previous year. July 2007 visits were also up 10 percent over the same month, a peacetime one, in 2005.
Duty Free enjoys increased summer sales
Also on the rise this summer were revenues at Ben-Gurion Airport's James Richardson Duty Free, which took in NIS 80 million for the season - up some 22 percent over the same period the previous year. Company officials attribute the growth to the usual suspects - the jump in summer traffic at Ben-Gurion this year and the shekel's strengthened position against the dollar.
The company has kicked off an NIS 2 million ad campaign for the holiday season. Its hopes for increased fall revenues appear well-placed, with a 10 percent rise in tourist traffic expected at Ben-Gurion over the same period last year.
12,000 Hassidim flying to Uman
Among the holiday travelers passing through Ben-Gurion will be an estimated 12,000 Hassidim on their way to Rosh Hashana prayers at the grave of Breslover Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine. The surge in Hassidic travel kicked off Thursday and will continue through September 19, with the religious Ukraine-bound passengers departing and returning on some 160 flights.
The traditional Rosh Hashana pilgrimage has been dubbed "Operation Uman" by the Israel Airports Authority, which has worked with organizations including Ukraine's embassy in Israel to ensure smooth handling of the extra flights.