DESPITE RECESSION, members of Israel's tourist industry are optimistic that the visit to Israel by Pope Benedict XVI in May will give a major boost to tourism as many Catholics around the world will want to be in the Holy Land at the same time as the Pope or will later in the year want to visit the places that he visited. In a sense the pontiff, by his very presence in the country, will be marketing Israel. Paul Milwizki, general manager of the Regency Hotel Jerusalem and former chairman of the Jerusalem Hotel Association anticipates that in the week of the papal visit and during the following week there will be some 40,000 Christian pilgrims arriving in Israel, who collectively will increase the country's revenues from tourism by some $60 million. Avi Ella, CEO of Caesar Premier Hotels and former President of the Israel Hotel Association, is even more optimistic about the potential adding that it all depends on what sort of marketing job Israel will do among Catholic communities worldwide. If the marketing is done properly he says, hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims will come to Israel in the second half of 2009. Boaz Waksman, chairman of the Ophir Tours Group, says that the visit by the Pope to Israel will signify a stamp of approval to the Catholic world, with many believers wanting to follow in his footsteps. It is imperative, he says, for the Tourism Ministry to embark on an aggressive marketing campaign that will appeal to Christians.
Meanwhile, the ministry has already convened a meeting with representatives of the tourist industry to discuss what needs to be done. Among the participants were incoming tourism operators that specialize in the Christian market, the Israel Hotel Association and representatives of municipalities that will be included in the Pope's itinerary.
In addition the ministry will invest NIS 6m. in renovating and preparing Christian holy sites for the papal visit and for the pilgrims who will come in his wake. Jerusalemites are hopeful that the construction work on the light rail system which has derailed Jaffa Road, the capital's main artery, will be completed in time for the Pope's arrival.
MARRIAGE DOES not have to be a prison is the compelling social message on a series of tote bags sold by Israeli fashion house Comme il Faut known for its promotion of human rights and social justice as International Women's Day comes around the corner next week. The promotion is a cooperation with ICAR, the International Coalition for Agunah Rights, which brings together Jewish organizations working to draw attention to the problem of agunot and mesuravot get and to promote solutions that are compatible with Halacha. The bags, which are made out of recycled materials by people who are mentally and physically challenged and are working under the aegis of Meshakem, are being sold for NIS 10 each. The proceeds of the sale will be used to continue ICAR's work in freeing women who are anchored in marriages which exist in name only, but which prevent the victims from marrying anyone else and bringing children into the world. Aside from carrying the message, the bags are also environmentally friendly, like those sold in most supermarkets to replace the nylon bags. The difference is that instead of advertising a particular supermarket chain, the ICAR bags will create awareness of the injustice perpetrated against Jewish women who want to opt out of a marriage.
SHOPPING MALLS are taking full advantage of the fact that International Women's Day and Purim are being celebrated in the same week, and are organizing numerous activities and specials for both women and children. At Savyonim Mall, women making purchases of a minimum of NIS 400 this week and up to March 8, will receive as a bonus the services of famed fashion stylist Sandra Ringler and her team, including a make-up artist. Admittedly, one has to spend at least NIS 400 in order to enjoy the service, but then again, if you were just hiring Ringler to advise you on your clothes, and you got a professional make-up artist to give your face a completely new look, it would cost you more than NIS 400. The Seven Stars Mall in Herzliya will have entertainment and competitions for children and adults on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week and is encouraging youngsters to come to the mall in their Purim costumes to add to the festive atmosphere. The activities for children are all supervised group products, leaving parents free to do shopping or to have coffee with friends.
PURIM LITERALLY translated means lots as in casting ones lot, but for children it means fancy dress and presents. Aware that parents and other relatives buy gifts for children not just at Purim and birthdays but all year round, Toys R Us is opening two more stores at an investment of NIS 3m. One store will be located in the Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv on the upper floor near the movie theaters and the other in G Mall in Kfar Saba.
According to Anat Nativ, Vice President Marketing of Toys R Us, the company is constantly developing and renewing itself in order to maintain its lead as Israel's largest and most varied toys and games chain. The opening and positioning of a store in the Azrieli Mall was natural she says, since both games and movies relate to leisure time activities. The company opens new stores every year as demand increases.
BANK HAPOALIM has for some time now been involved in literacy programs with the special focus of encouraging children to read books. In this context, it has entered into an arrangement with book store chain Steimatzky under the slogan 'Read and Succeed'. This is the sixth year in which Bank Hapoalim has launched a reading campaign for children. This year youngsters are invited to bring waste paper - newspapers, faxes, paid-up bills, used envelopes, copy books - that they no longer need, and any other kind of paper to a Steimatzky store, where in exchange, for the symbolic sum of NIS 10 which is considerably less than the average price of a book, they will be able to buy one of twelve books, the regular prices of which are between NIS 60 - NIS 80. The duration of the campaign is from March 5 - 28.
THE PLANT Nurseries Corporation Hishtil is broadening its international activities and has opened a special Bonsai Nursery from which it will market and export Bonsai trees to the Balkan region. Hishtil is already exporting to Turkey, Italy, South Africa and Greece, and supplies five other nurseries in Israel. According to Gadi Alsar, manager of the International Division, the company exports some one billion plants per annum. Hishtil complies with the highest international standards and presents its huge variety of products at international trade fairs.