■ THE INAUGURATION of the countdown ceremony to encourage votes for the Dead Sea to be included as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature was held on October 16 at the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, with the participation of President Shimon Peres and Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, as well as senior Israeli business leaders. The highlight of the event was the lighting of a giant counter by Peres and Meseznikov.The counter will remain on the Azrieli Tower, recording the days and hours left to vote and the announcement, once it is made. The seven finalists will be announced on 11.11.11.■ TOURISM MINISTER Stas Meseznikov last week received the key to the city of Eilat from Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy during a festive city council meeting focusing on the city’s vision for expanded tourism. Also present at the meeting were Ami Federmann, president of the Israel Hotel Association; Noaz Bar-Nir, director general of the Tourism Ministry; and senior ministry officials working in Eilat in conjunction with the municipality.Meseznikov has made it clear on several occasions when speaking at public forums that he intends to put Eilat back on the international tourist map, competing with neighboring countries to win the hearts of potential tourists. Toward this end, special grants and other incentives have been made available to investors and entrepreneurs in the hotel and tourist attraction industries. These incentives are within the framework of the Law to Encourage Capital Investment. Currently on the drawing board are six new initiatives for the construction of hotels in Eilat, which already has an impressive hotel infrastructure. The ministry is also working towards increasing the number of direct flights to Eilat. Over the past year, the number of weekly winter flights from abroad increased from 14 to 27. The ministry wants to increase this number even further.The ministry is also allocating in excess of NIS 100 million for special programs and target marketing of Eilat. Meseznikov said that Eilat, whose economic development relies for the most part on tourism, must continue to develop its tourism industry by constructing new hotels, new attractions and shopping centers, hosting attractive events and having suitable physical infrastructures.■ SEVERAL BRIDES who had ordered their wedding gowns at the Oshida bridal salon in Tel Aviv were left high and dry without their gowns when Oshida went bankrupt.Miraculously, designer Galit Korner came to their rescue. A story featured in Israel Hayom tells of how Moran Vides, who was married on Tuesday of last week, went in desperation to Korner, who after hearing her tale of woe, offered to make a gown for her at no charge. Word spread to the other brides who had been abandoned by Oshida, and they found their way to Korner’s door. She produced 25 wedding gowns, which were each a gift to the bride concerned. Korner told Israel Hayom’s Dan Lavie that there is no greater joy than giving from the heart. In the course of her career, she said, she had come across thousands of brides for whom their wedding day was of the utmost importance. Therefore, if she could contribute to the happiness of 25 brides, she was pleased to do so. Judging by the feedback she had received from those who had already married, she knew she had done the right thing.■ WITHIN THE framework of their Friday Morning Lecture series, the English Speaking Friends of Tel Aviv University will host Prof. Asher Susser of TAU’s Dayan Center on Friday, November 11 at 11 a.m. The lecture will be held in Auditorium 05 of the Cohen-Porter United Kingdom Building of Life Sciences. Susser will discuss the Arab Spring and will attempt to answer the question: Is the Middle East Heading for a Democratic Era? British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who lectured to ESRA last week, was asked whether he saw Iran emulating the Arab Spring and moving in the direction of democracy. “I’d love to say that change is imminent in Iran, but unfortunately I can’t,” he said.■ APROPOS GOULD, the dismay felt by his neighbors over his announcement a couple of weeks back that the British ambassador’s residence is up for sale found expression at a meeting he had with a representative delegation on the same day that he spoke to ESRA. He understood the neighbors’ point of view and their fears that whoever buys the Ramat Gan property will tear it down and build a high-rise apartment complex, but he asked the delegation to understand that as ambassador, it is his duty to find the best place he can for the British residence. It should be a place large enough for the many events he and future ambassadors have to host, easily accessible and with a lot of space for parking. None of the above hold true for the current residence, which boasts large grounds but a relatively small house and parking for only two or three cars.Gould admitted that if he was in the position of his neighbors, he would feel as they do – but his first duty as ambassador is not to them. He also empathizes with those British expats living in Israel who want to turn the residence into a museum of the history of all the ambassadors who’ve lived there as well as all things representing Britain in Israel – but in order to do that, they would have to buy it.