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The Tourism Ministry offices in Jerusalem. A subsidiary of the ministry is scheduled to move to Tel Aviv..(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Hilton sees increasing tourism despite security scares
Israel’s all-too-frequent military operations and security situations have a marked effect on the tourism industry, but Hilton hotels see no reason to stop investing here.
Israel’s all-too-frequent military operations and security situations have a marked effect on the tourism industry, but Hilton hotels see no reason to stop investing here.

Oded Lifschitz, Vice President of Hilton Worldwide told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that while every country has its particular issues that slow tourism, global trends will far outweigh those setbacks.

“Israel has an element that most countries don’t have, and that’s the security situation. But I’ve worked in many places,” Lifschitz said, citing Australia and Japan as two recent posts, “In other countries tourism is hit but it’s hit in different ways.” In Australia, it was a an enormous pilot strike in the second biggest airline that frazzled the industry. In Japan, it was the devastating earthquake that put the Fukushima nuclear reactor in danger.

“We had to prepare plans for the possibility of evacuating Tokyo! So wherever you are in the world, something can hit you, but you can say that, unfortunately, it hits here more often, and though often for very short periods, sometimes for longer,” he said.

Yet global factors are conspiring to make tourism an ever-increasing industry, with the number of travelers expected to grow from 1.2 billion this year to 2 billion in 2018. One major reason is the growth of China, which has already become the top origin for tourists in the world. The changing demographics of tourists, which are just starting to register in Israel, mean new strategies for hoteliers hoping to attract and accommodate guests who don’t rely on English and might have different dietary expectations.

The increasing ease of travel, reduction of fares from low-cost airlines, and more people with disposable income around the world also boost the trend.

According Lifschitz, HIlton’s investment in Israel, despite whatever difficulties it might face, is part of its ethos. The Tel Aviv Hilton celebrates its 50th anniversary this year:

“You could have asked 50 years ago, ‘Why come to Israel to open hotels?’” he said, noting that even today it is opening new branches in places with far worse problem than Israel, such as Kiev, Kazakhastan, Georgia and even Chad.

Israel is a unique market, however; while many big city hotels rely almost solely on business travelers to fill their rooms throughout the week, in Tel Aviv they are typically just half the clientele, and even fewer in Jerusalem or Eilat. A Bank of Israel study found that business travelers were less likely to cancel their trips to Israel during tough security times than leisure tourists.

HIlton is in the process of adding electronic check-ins for frequent guests and upgrading room keys so people will be able to unlock them with their smart phones. With 4,300 hotels to upgrade, however, that will take a lot of time.

Lifschitz, who was in Israel for a HIlton-sponsored career event for students in the hotel and hospitality business, said that despite all the new technology trickling into the field, he expects that the demand for service will keep the hotel business a labor-intensive one.

Indeed, he added, Hilton in Israel is hiring.
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