Far from the days of portraying Israel as a haven for archeological enthusiasts and tugging on religious sentimental strings, the Tourism Ministry is now selling Israel as a place to party. "We felt there was a need to change the way people think about Israel beyond the traditional, cultural and religious experience it has to offer," said Uzi Gafni, director of the Israeli government's tourism office in the UK and Ireland, which is sponsored the campaign, which features scantily clad women. The potentially controversial advertisement aired for the first time on Sky TV channels on Boxing Day (December 26) and will run until the end of January, forming the climax to a wider advertising campaign, launched in October, aimed at raising the profile of Israel in the UK as a leisure tourist destination. The UK tourism office allocated a budget of 1.5 million for the promotion, which included print adverts in the mainstream media, on taxicabs, the subways and buses. While Gafni insisted that it's too soon to measure its true impact, the racy television ad has given its new Web site (www.thinkisrael.com) the boost it sought. Between its launch in late October and December 26, the Web site had 9,000 hits, rising to 25,000 three days later, when the figures were last checked. "The real success of the campaign will come when tour operators report a further increase in British tourists to Israel," he said. Figures released last week by the Tourism Ministry showed that 141,500 visitors from the United Kingdom arrived in the country in the first 11 months of 2005, an 8% increase from the same period in 2004. The new advertisement breaks the norm in how Israel sells itself to the public, veering away from the ethno-centric approach used until now. The campaign focuses on the appeals of sunbathing in Eilat, relaxing at the Dead Sea and partying in Tel Aviv, as the way to "Think Israel," ignoring the more typical imagery of Jerusalem, Masada or Tiberias. Yoram Rubinger, creative director at advertising and branding agency Open (which was not associated with the project) said the advertisement sends a positive message to young travelers that Israel is a fun destination, comparable to Greece and Turkey. "Showing a different aspect to the country should not present any problems," he said. The Tourism Ministry's Gafni added that he has received no negative feedback from the campaign and that even the Jewish press in the UK has favored the idea of showing Israel differently. A follow-up campaign is planned for April and May. Meanwhile, the Tourism Ministry said Monday it has allocated 30% of its marketing and advertising budget to Internet-based campaigns. This follows the initial success of its campaign on the Yahoo Internet portal, which displays more traditional Israel promotional banners when a travel search is done for Europe or the Far East. The ministry said the Yahoo campaign brought 130,000 visitors to its site in November, the start of the four-month campaign. The ministry also initiated campaigns in Los Angeles, New York and Miami, as well as in the American Christian media.