Don't worry, bombing was far from the hotels, Tourism Ministry says

Tourism officials assured prospective visitors to Eilat Monday that the bakery terror attack did not pose a threat to tourists and said they remain confident of boosting tourism to the city this year. "There have been attacks in Taba, Aqaba, Istanbul and Tel Aviv, and now it happened in Eilat, but this won't have an effect on the long-term plan for the city," Shabtai Shay, general manager of the Eilat Hotels Association, said. "We need to manage it properly and continue to invest in the program we have embarked on." Shay stressed the same message issued by the Tourism Ministry following the attack - that the blast took place in a residential area, away from the city's main tourist clusters. "We have instructed all our representatives abroad to relay the message that the attack took place very far from the tourist center and that the situation is under control and secure," Nahum Itzkovich, director-general of the Tourism Ministry, said. "There are currently thousands of tourists in Eilat, and at this stage we have not had any cancellations of traffic into or out of the city," he said. Reports later in the day said that the suicide bomber had intended to carry out the attack in a more crowded area but changed his plans when he was approached by police officers. One travel operator said the ministry's message made no real difference as tourists were not necessarily reassured by the attack having taken place in a residential area. The attack was the first suicide bomber to hit Eilat and comes two months after the city's tourism industry relaunched its Eilat Promotion Travel Agents Conference, seeking to influence 221 guests from 21 countries to sell Eilat as an attractive travel destination. The annual conference, which hasn't taken place for four years due to the security situation in the rest of the country, set a goal of bringing 1 million tourists to Eilat in the winter of 2007-08, which would be a 50 percent increase over this year. One attendee at the conference, Rafi Caplin, managing director of UK-based Longwood Holidays, said he did not believe the attack would have a long-term effect on tourism to the city, adding that traffic there came mainly from the Jewish community, while non-Jewish traffic was near nonexistent, with or without the attack. While there were no major cancellations of visits to the city on Monday, there was a significant drop in new interest, as local tour operators' phones went silent following the blast. "Until today we had a very good month, so there was an effect in that we had very few phone calls today," said Zvika Karpel, general manager of travel Web site Gulliver. He said the lull would only last for a few days. "January and February are busy months for Eilat and the Dead Sea, and the signs are good that Pessah will also be strong this year. I don't think the effect will last beyond a few days," Karpel said.