Evangelical tourism could bring 10 million visitors a year

"Since the 1980s, the rate of growth in the area of tourism has barely reached 2.9 percent, while in the rest of the world it is 4%," Sheinin said.

welcome to israel 88 (photo credit: )
welcome to israel 88
(photo credit: )
The government is not doing enough to expand the economic potential of evangelical tourism, which could bring 10 million tourists a year to Israel, according to Economic Models CEO Ya'acov Sheinin. "The main problem of tourism in Israel today is not the intifada or terrorism, but the [lack of] development of Israel as a holiday or religious vacation destination," he said Monday at the Herzliya Conference in Herzliya's Daniel Hotel. Even before the Oslo Accords, when Israel was in an excellent position, Sheinin said, only about 1.4 million tourists came to Israel. "Tourists sites - not including Eilat - in Israel are not attractive enough," he said, "and they cannot compete with other popular holiday countries such as Turkey, Greece or Thailand, although we have a relative advantage in terms of the wealth of historical and religious sites, like no other country." "Since the 1980s, the rate of growth in the area of tourism has barely reached 2.9 percent, while in the rest of the world it is 4%," Sheinin added. "If we were to grow at the pace of the rest of the world, we would have been able to attract 3.3 million tourists a year, but today we only have 2.3 million." He said there were three groups of tourists visiting Israel: Jewish relatives; business/vacation, or "normal" tourists; and evangelical-historical tourists. In the first group, Sheinin said, Israel has done a good job. Today, 10% of the Jews in the world come to Israel every year, he said. "But with respect to evangelical or religious and historical tourism, a group that has the biggest potential, we haven't taken advantage of that potential, although Israel is holy to about 2 billion people around the world," he said. "Our aim should be to make Christians come to the holy land at least once in their lives on the journey of Jesus' life. Out of the 2 billion, there are about 500 million Christians from rich nations; that if we were to convince them to come, that would be another potential 10 million tourists per year." In terms of marketing and publicity, there was nothing more popular than the Holy Land, Sheinin said, but not enough tourists were coming to Israel, mainly because of lack of investment into making historical sites more attractive and the lack of hotels. "There is a need for an additional 70,000 rooms," he said. "But today there are no entrepreneurs who are prepared to invest in this venture when there are only 5 million tourists a year and potential geopolitical risks. Hence, if there is a market failure, it requires governmental intervention providing a safety net for private entrepreneurs by saying, 'If an external security event occurs, then the state will pay you for your overhead payments.'" Sheinin suggested an insurance coverage program that would cost the government NIS 400 million a year, or NIS 6,000 per room, but would provide 30,000 more jobs. "I agree with the direction and program Sheinin has pointed to, and, in particular, for the demand of more innovative and creative solutions for developing Israel as a product," Tourism Ministry director-general Shaul Tzemach said. Yossi Hollander, chairman of the Israeli Center for Economic Planning, said full development of the potential of the tourism sector in Israel would create jobs solutions for the 80% of the workforce who do not work in hi-tech or have lower skills.