Tourism industry mulls taking over marketing strategy

Professional blames gov't for drop in number of visitors, calls for independent authority.

tourism 298 (photo credit: JNF)
tourism 298
(photo credit: JNF)
Upon returning from a tourism conference in Eilat and seeing firsthand the lack of foreign tourists in the city, Yossi Fisher, deputy director of Clal Tourism, announced that he was fed up with the Tourism Ministry’s ineptitude at drawing in tourists.
Fisher has called on his colleagues in the industry to form an independent marketing authority to take over the ministry’s role. On Sunday he wrote an article in Calcalist calling on tourism professionals to unite. On Monday, he spoke to The Jerusalem Post about how he plans to make the reform come to pass.
“The numbers speak for themselves. In 1995, when I was working as a marketing executive for a hotel in Eilat, there were 40 incoming charter flights a week; today there are five... Back then there were 9.5 million nightly lodgings and in 2009 there were only 8.1 million. Someone is not doing their job,” said Fisher.
“There may be an increase in overall tourists, but if many of them are day-tourists who don’t stay overnight, it doesn’t translate into meaningful income for the industry,” he said.
Fisher, who works for one of Israel’s largest travel companies, with holdings in both retail and wholesale tourism related businesses, said Israel was falling behind when it comes to marketing the tourism product.
“Israel is in 98th place in government funding for tourism. We have already been overtaken by Jordan, and Lebanon is close on our heels, I’m not even talking about places like Turkey and Egypt,” he said. “Hoteliers have invested billions of dollars in providing the highest-quality lodgings, but because of the Tourism Ministry’s poor showing, they are not inhabited by foreign tourists. That fact is clear in Eilat, but can also be seen in the Dead Sea region and other places in the country,” said Fisher.
The solution, he said, is to give up on the Tourism Ministry and form an independent tourism marketing authority, paid for and run by tourism professionals.
Fisher said the major problem with the Tourism Ministry is that for them business is mixed with politics. “There have been 16 tourism ministers over the last 10 years. Each one of them comes with their own agenda and their own pet projects, but none stick around for the long haul. People in the business need to know that there is consistency and accountability,” said Fisher.
“For example,” he continued, “ever since Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, there have been talks of creating a joint tourism promotion project, but nothing has happened... Today Akaba is gaining momentum as a top tourism destination, while we remain far behind.”
Fisher acknowledged that the costs of such an initiative would be huge. He estimated that partner companies would have to pay 1 percent to 2% of their income toward the marketing authority.
“The expenditure is substantial, but it is necessary and I believe it will justify itself,” Fisher said. “I believe that the marketing of Israel should be in the hands of professionals and not in those of rotating politicians. I have thrown down the gauntlet and will wait to see if my colleagues in the industry will embrace the challenge.”
While Fisher may be the first to call for all out independence from the Tourism Ministry, the idea of a Tourism Marketing Authority is not new. In fact, such bodies are prevalent abroad, and even in Israel the idea has come to the fore on previous occasions.
“Many countries have marketing authorities that are co-owned and operated by the government and private businesses in the tourism sector. It makes perfect sense, only in Israel and a handful of other countries does the marketing rest solely in the hands of the government,” said Eli Gonen, president of the Israel Hotel Association.
In 2008 a bill proposing to create such a body was brought up in the Knesset by MK Gilad Erdan, but was defeated.
Less than three months ago, the ministry held a conference with industry professionals and one of the main proposals that came out of it was to form a public/private marketing authority. The problem is that the plan meets resistance from the tourism ministry employees, who fear that a new body would rob them of their jobs. Following the conference the employees went on a 10-day strike and the minister announced that the authority would not be formed.
Gonen said that Fisher’s proposal was unworkable and rejected the notion that although businesses could do the marketing on their own, they shouldn’t have to.
“Hotels invest NIS 340 million a year on advertising, but everyoneagrees that when it comes to marketing the country as a whole, it is upto the government,” said Gonen. “What is needed is not separation, butmore cooperation between businesses and government. I believe it willeventually happen; all that’s required is political will to make ithappen. Just like the government supports industrialists in export, itshould help tourism professionals in import.”
The Tourism Ministry said in response to Fisher’s proposal that overthe last three years the ministry had been successful at bringing intourists despite two wars and a global economic recession.
“The Tourism Ministry welcomes Yossi Fisher’s initiative, whichstrengthens the ministry’s call for the different bodies in the tourismsector to invest money in joint marketing of Israel. Today the ministryis the sole investor. There is no doubt that bigger budgets would helpin reaching the goal of four million tourists by 2012 and five millionby 2015,” said the ministry’s spokeswoman.