At end of year, Miseznikov touts tourism achievements

Tourism Ministry releases estimates showing nearly 3.5m. people visited in past year; most tourists Christians; Western Wall most popular site.

masada tourism 311 (photo credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg)
masada tourism 311
(photo credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg)
In light of the record number of tourists who arrived in Israel in 2010, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov is optimistic the country will meet its target of a million more foreign visitors annually by 2013, two years earlier than had been hoped.
Meseznikov, during an endof- year press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, said that if everything went well and there were no unpleasant surprises, Israel could reach the 4 million mark next year.
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During the press conference, Meseznikov proudly enumerated 2010’s tourism figures, which showed growth in incoming tourism, domestic tourism, return visits, state revenue from the sector, jobs created, increased budgets and hotel construction starts.
He also expressed pride in a personal record, being the first tourism minister in a decade to remain in his post for two years.
“The year 2010 is a milestone for the Israeli tourism industry, a year in which both the government and the economy in general understood that tourism is an economic force of the first degree, one of the most important in the economy and one that should be related to accordingly,” Meseznikov said.
According to Meseznikov the satisfaction level of tourists visiting Israel was also very good, with the country as a whole scoring 4.3 out of 5 in service satisfaction surveys conducted by the ministry.
Top scorers in the surveys were the archeological sites (4.6); tour guides (4.4); and airport facilities, attitude of the local population, security checks and accommodation facilities (4.3). Lower scoring services included taxis (3.8); shops and the cleanliness in public spaces (3.9). Value for money, VAT-free shopping and advertising received an average rating of 4.0.
Meseznikov pointed out challenges facing the industry and possible ways to succeed in spite of them. The top challenges according to the minister are: the geo-political situation, the global economic crisis and high shekel-to-dollar exchange rate, and the fact that Israel is expensive compared to its neighbors and competitors.
The ministry’s hopes to succeed despite the challenges by revolutionizing Israel’s marketing strategy.
Meseznikov said that Israel had no chance of beating out neighbors like Cyprus, Turkey and Greece, or even Jordan and Egypt, when it came to leisure tourism, but that Israel had to look to the unique advantages of its rich history and its importance as a spiritual center, and leverage that as a magnet for tourists, especially those from Christian countries.
Sixty-nine percent of all incoming tourists in 2010 were Christian, 23% were Jewish, and the remainder either from other religions or with no religious affiliation.
Thirty-eight percent of the foreign visitors defined the purpose of their trip as pilgrimage, 15% said it was for a holiday and leisure and 13% for touring and sight-seeing. A total of 69% of visitors defined the purpose of their trip as tourism.
The most visited sites included the Western Wall (77%), the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem (73%), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (61%), the Via Dolorosa (60%) and the Mount of Olives (55%).
“We will continue next year with focused and segmented marketing activities in all the target countries, as well as emerging markets,” Meseznikov said. Among those countries that the ministry plans to put an emphasis on and where it sees the most potential for growth are China, India and Poland.
Meseznikov pledged that in the upcoming year his ministry would do more to draw investors to build hotels, saying there was a desperate need for 20,000 new rooms to meet the rising demand. He also said that the new rooms would have to provide lodging solutions for all budgets and in all parts of the county and expressed a desire to see more low- and mid-range lodgings go up in the periphery.
He said the ministry wanted more tourism attractions to go up and complained that the Finance Ministry failed to allocate budgets for investment incentives.
Meseznikov spoke about the need for more competition among airlines and expressed a desire to see a low-cost carrier develop in Israel similar to those that operate in Europe and North America.
Meseznikov concluded by urging Prime Minister Binyamin and the government to embrace the tourism sector and pay it its due respect.
“This will be the year in which the government must decide its policy toward tourism – either to leverage the momentum that we have created with one of the most important national resources we have and push the industry forward while placing it at the forefront of the national agenda in all aspects (budget, land reform, infrastructure, etc) or to continue to relate to tourism as another industry that will continue to exist on its own,” Meseznikov said.