'Green acres' is the place to be...for rural fun

Tourism Ministry announces the launch of a new publicity campaign highlighting Israel's rural tourism sector.

In an effort to boost local tourism, the TourismMinistry on Wednesday announced the launch of a new publicity campaignhighlighting Israel's rural tourism sector.

TheNIS 500,000 campaign will focus on tourism opportunities in theperiphery and run under the slogan "There's a vacation and thenthere's…. rural fun."

The campaign will start Thursday; it will last a month and willbe accompanied by promotions from various travel agencies and touristattractions that will provide special discounts and opportunities tothose who purchase rural travel packages.

According to the Tourism Ministry, the campaign will exposeIsraelis to various domestic destinations and the attractions they canfind there. These range from private and tranquil kibbutz guesthousesand farms on moshavim, to active vacations for families that includebicycle tours, agricultural activities, tours to wineries and olive oilrefineries, visits to dairy farms and bee hives and participation inlocal festivals.

The campaign will appear in newspapers and leadingWeb sites and will be accompanied by a new Tourism Ministry Web pagethat will provide potential tourists with the details of the campaign,the tour packages on offer, a calendar of events and links to relevantWeb sites that deal with rural tourism.

"We see great importance in strengthening local tourism byincreasing visits, nightly accommodations and the use of touristattractions, which will maintain continued activity and employment,"said Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov.

"Increasingrural tourism activity will enable the employment of additional workersto the tourism sector, while expanding the range of products."

"Rural and agricultural tourism is one of the main economicboosters for the periphery. Along with agriculture, it is the mainsource of employment for the residents of the periphery," saidAgriculture Minister Shalom Simchon. "The new campaign is an additionalstep towards establishing new jobs and promoting small businesses, aspart of the ministry's plans for rural development."

According to Tourism Ministry statistics, in 2009 NIS 2 billion were spent on rural tourism.

An additional component to increasing tourism to the peripheryis a joint effort of the Tourism Ministry and the the Negev and GalileeDevelopment Ministry to launch a grading system for Israel's ruralguesthouses (tzimmerim).

The grading system, which recently completed a successful pilot in the north, will be expanding to the rest of the country.

The grading system measures 140 different criteria in line withinternational norms and give the rooms grades of A, B and C, based onthe levels of quality and service. The criteria include things like thetype of mattresses and pillows prvided, distance of the tzimmer fromchicken coops or cow sheds, the size of room, noise from the airconditioning, credible advertising and many others.

There are about 9,000 tzimmers in Israel which mainly attractdomestic tourists during weekends, holidays and vacations. The annualoccupancy rate of rural guesthouses stands at 38 percent.

The Israel Tourist and Travel Agents Association said that inresponse to requests from the Tourism and Agriculture ministries, theassociation had approached its members to offer the best possible tourpackages.

"Every agency sent us their best deals. The packages includeaccommodations, entrance to local attractions and meals, or discountson meals at local restaurants," said a spokeswoman for the association.

Full details can be found at the Tourism Ministry Web site at www.goisrael.gov.il.