True living with the Dead Sea

If there is a place on this globe where humans are exploiting and destroying nature on an unprecedented scale, it’s the Dead Sea. 

 A VIEW OF the Dead Sea. (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)
A VIEW OF the Dead Sea.
(photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)

If there is a place on this globe where humans are exploiting and destroying nature on an unprecedented scale, it’s the Dead Sea

Both Israel and Jordan have diverted the waters from the Jordan River for agriculture and drinking water, causing the sea to slowly die. Together with the intervention of chemical companies extracting minerals, the sea changes its face on a daily basis. 

The regional tourism industry is also facing disastrous consequences. With the creation of thousands of sinkholes along the shores, which have led to the closing of beaches, roads, agricultural fields and businesses, the future looks extremely gloomy.

But in this cloudy reality, there has been one shining light via a surprising recent announcement by Travel + Leisure, the prestigious American travel magazine with 4.8 million readers. Israel’s Dead Sea was selected as the world’s No. 1 healing spot around the world for 2022, from hot springs to salt flats.

“Besides being absolutely breathtaking, this landlocked salt lake has long been touted for its health-giving properties. From slathering the black mud over your skin for exfoliation and alleviating skin conditions like psoriasis, to its professed natural power to remedy asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, and other issues, the body of water also boasts a low content of pollen and other allergens. At 400 meters below sea level, harmful UV rays are filtered through an evaporation layer above the Dead Sea, the ozone layer, and an extra atmospheric layer. This is said to mean that sunbathers can absorb the beneficial effects of vitamin D from the sun’s rays, without risk of sunburn and ensuing skin damage,” the leading and iconic travel magazine wrote.

 SOME OF the aesthetic magic of the Dead Sea’s salt layers. (credit: NOAM BEDEIN) SOME OF the aesthetic magic of the Dead Sea’s salt layers. (credit: NOAM BEDEIN)

This top ranking is no doubt a reward to Israel’s efforts, investing funds in recent years to develop the tourism sector in the Ein Bokek region west of the Dead Sea. The investment carried on in marketing the sea as a leading tourist destination for both domestic and international tourists.

“Opening the borders in Israel for my clients – patients who suffer from severe psoriasis in Denmark – was a truly profound happy message. For the last two years, during the pandemic, they had to settle for minor treatments like lotions and medicines”, says Robert Milutin, co-owner of 1 Bedre Liv Denmark travel agency. “Hundreds of Danish patients arrive annually to the Dead Sea for 28 days and, at the end of the period, the sun heals their wounds. For some of them the accessibility to the Dead Sea is a matter of life and death.”

The Dead Sea is indeed heaven on earth for healing tourism. Ein Bokek hotels offer a unique experience with the region’s gigantic beachfront evaporation ponds. Most of them are equipped with sulfur pools, indoor heated seawater pools, solarium facilities and offer spa treatments, using Dead Sea result-driven skincare products, believed to strengthen and rejuvenate bodies.

“Since Israel opened its borders we saw an increase of incoming tourism to our hotels. Our marketing executives are active to incentivize relevant travel agents to put the sea on the map again, by participating in designated healing forums and fairs in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and even in the UAE,” said Yossi Glazer, Dead Sea regional manager of the Fattal hotel chain, which operates four hotels in Ein Bokek. 

“Foreign guests stay for an average of two weeks and we offer incentive packages for longer stays. Our objective is to get back as quickly as possible to the pre-pandemic occupancy, in which every third guest in our hotels is a tourist. However, the war in Ukraine is indeed an obstacle, as the Russian market is our leading one. We cross our fingers that this conflict will end soon.”

The Tourism Ministry is currently working on new campaigns to promote the country as a tourism destination post-pandemic. The Dead Sea will be part of the visuals. Furthermore, the sea is included in the touring itinerary of all journalists, influencers and celebrities hosted by the ministry, as part of its marketing activities to raise Israel’s profile as a tourism destination among different target groups.

Last fall, 200 men and women participated in a nude artistic installation by renowned American artist Spencer Tunick in the desert landscape around Arad, overlooking the Dead Sea. Tunick returned to the Dead Sea region after two earlier installations that won international acclaim and helped draw attention to this one-of-a-kind dying sea.

Challenges and improvisations in this unique area are endless.

“We had to close our famous hot springs resort next to the sea shores, as the water receded dramatically,” said Shahaf Homri, CEO of Kibbutz Ein Gedi. “Each year we lose 50 meters, and the waterfront that was part of the facility in 1982 when we opened is now 5 km. away. No hospitality business is facing a challenge like this globally. We are planning a totally different, fascinating hot springs retreat to meet this new millennium, as the Dead Sea deserves a more modern attraction.”

Ein Gedi is famous for its 166-room oasis hotel. General Manager Tom Geva says that nowadays one out of three guests is a foreign tourist, while before the pandemic almost all the guests came from overseas.

“Germany, France and the USA are our dominant markets. As the sea disappears, we’re offering groups of healing guests from Denmark Dead Sea water in our modern spa and the therapeutic sun beams in a solarium in the hot springs facility during special designated hours. Rides to the Ein Bokek beaches are offered as well. Our creative thinking helps us to satisfy every need.”

Travel + Leisure selected the Dead Sea ahead of exotic places like Yakushima Island, Japan, with its rain forest celebrated by the locals for its healing ability; The Healing Hole, Bimini, The Bahamas, with its cold channel of freshwater that swirls together with warm saltwater, purported by some to be a potent panacea; and Taos, New Mexico, with its mineral springs bursting with healthful properties.

Travel + Leisure clearly mentions Israel, regardless of the fact that Jordan also offers Dead Sea tourism, with hotels characterized by a traditional village and environmentally friendly setting – due to the different geological scenery. Numerous are internationally branded with unlimited marketing resources, like Marriott, Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Mövenpick, Kempinski and Holiday Inn. It’s a compliment to the Israeli tourism industry, which doesn’t have a single international hotel brand in the Dead Sea.

Personally, I miss a posh official tourist spot in the true lowest point on earth overlooking the sea, preferably with a frame for Instagram photographers. In the digital world we live in, a sign like this is king. However, when I checked with Dead Sea executives, I discovered that a similarly impressive spot was inaugurated by the authorities almost a decade ago at the Ein Gedi beach. In time, the water receded. The beach was closed. Warning signs for sinkholes were put up instead. I couldn’t help remembering the old saying: “Man plans, Mother Nature laughs.” The official spot with the wooden, cool, modern deck is gone. How ironic.

Israeli Dead Sea tourism leaders will be wise to take advantage of this unexpected 2022 support by the 4.8 million readers of Travel + Leisure for both business growth and to market substantial assistance to those who truly need the therapeutic, magical capabilities of the lowest point on earth.

The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher. To read the Travel + Leisure article: