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Israel's hotel workers may want to start brushing up on their Russian. After months of predicting that it can double or even triple the number of Russian visitors to the country within the next few years, the Tourism Ministry announced last week that it's putting its money where its mouth is, nearly tripling the money it will spend on promoting visits to Israel from Russia next year.
The announcement followed a highly successful performance at the 13th annual Moscow Winter Tourism Fair, where Israel's representatives reported a significant growth in interest following the cabinet's decision to cancel the visa requirement for Russian visitors.
The Tourism Ministry will try to cash in on the added interest with a $3 million marketing campaign set for next year, up from the $1.2m. it allocated in 2007. Next year's efforts will make use of similar tools - mostly billboards and advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on-line. The ads proved a winning strategy in 2007, with tourism from Russia up 90 percent between January and August over a year earlier to just under 94,000 visits, including a jaw-dropping 394% rise between August 2006 and the same month this year. Russia is already the fourth largest provider of tourists to Israel, the ministry notes, and appears likely to grow in importance over the coming years.
The Tourism Ministry predicts the cancellation of the visa requirement will facilitate the arrival of an additional 200,000 Russian visitors by 2009, which would add $200m. and 8,000 jobs to the economy. And there would, it appears, be room for growth even after the arrival of the extra visitors, with ministry officials noting that Egypt and Turkey each attract roughly one million visitors from the former Soviet Union each year.
Though the visa cancellation has received the support of the cabinet, the issue is not permanently closed, and may be revisited even as the number of Russian visitors goes up. Early resistance to the visa cancellation centered on the increase it could cause in organized crime and the trafficking of women in Israel, concerns cited by the Public Security Ministry in its initial opposition to the policy change. (Public Security Minister Avi Dichter eventually voted in favor of the change, following consultations with Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich.) The government last week drafted a new plan to combat the trafficking of women, and Justice Ministry official Rochelle Gershuni identified the cancellation of the visa requirement as a potential obstacle in the fight, Haaretz reported on Friday.
Delta delivering more North American tourists
Delta Airlines officials are feeling better than ever these days about the company's decision to become the first American carrier to offer regular flights between Tel Aviv and two US cities.
The company reports the successful delivery 15,397 travelers between Atlanta and Israel in August, up 31% from the same month the previous year. The increase makes Delta just one of a number of airlines to enjoy added business over the record-breaking summer travel season, but is especially significant for the airline due to its plans to start non-stop service between Ben-Gurion Airport and New York City in March. Delta flights to and from Israel, 84% full on average between January and August 2007, reached 93% of capacity in August.
Flight and vacation prices expected to fall
The end of the holiday travel season is expected to bring a 10% drop in prices for flights and vacation packages, the Issta Travel Agency reports. With most Israelis back at work and school, airlines and travel wholesalers are being forced to bring prices down, and Issta, likes its competitors, is trumpeting the news as a reason for Israelis to keep traveling.
Tel Aviv to host ski fair
With perhaps a month of beach weather remaining, Israeli skiers are already turning their attention to the coming winter. More than 6,000 ski and snowboard enthusiasts are expected to attend the fifth annual Ski Fair at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Tuesday, with organizers noting a 30% increase in winter sports travel among Israelis over the last several years.
Around 40,000 Israelis now travel abroad each winter to ski or snowboard, spending $40m. - including flights and hotel stays - as they do. Israeli ski fans named the usual suspects in a recent poll about their preferred skiing and snowboarding spots, identifying France, Italy and Austria. (The domestic skiing option, Mount Hermon, came in fourth on the list.) While Israel remains a small market, European travel wholesalers have taken notice of the country's increased participation in winter sports travel, and Tuesday's fair will include tourism industry representatives and even embassy staff from the Czech Republic, Austria and Romania.
Entry to the fair, which runs between 4:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., costs NIS 25.