Tourism Ministry unveils 'virtual tours' of Israel

Mini-Web site dedicated to the pope's visit in May to be launched soon.

virtual tourism (photo credit: Courtesy)
virtual tourism
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Want to go on a virtual tour of Israel? The Tourism Ministry has revamped its tourism Web site (, and visitors to the site from around the world can now access a multimedia experience offering virtual tours with videos, photos, and panoramic views of Israel. "We wanted to take advantage of the technology that now exists which allows us to show Israel easily to people all over the world," said Pini Shani, the ministry's director of overseas marketing. The virtual tour content includes 100 videos, 130 panoramic views and numerous photographs. Popular sites one can "virtually visit" include the Western Wall, the Old City of Jerusalem, Caesarea, Mitzpe Ramon, Gamla, Ben-Gurion's hut, Hayarkon Park, Katzrin and Mount Hermon. The site offers detailed information on each place. In addition, Shani says, the Tourism Ministry has created 10 virtual tour itineraries of 10 days each, in an effort to appeal to Israel's diverse demographic sectors. The itineraries range from a Jewish or Christian focus to culture and history, nature, food and wine, family, archaeology and mobility-challenged tours. "It was complicated choosing virtual content because of the variety in demographics we try to reach in our marketing," said Shani. "It's challenging to create a diversified Internet site in general good taste because there are contradictions in the messages we convey. Photos of wild parties in Tel Aviv are not meant for evangelicals or religious Jews." The Web site is currently available in 11 languages, offering access to comprehensive information on accommodation, attractions, events and tour packages. According to the Tourism Ministry, the site is an important component of the ministry's international marketing campaign. "The Tourism Ministry is currently expanding its marketing activities around the world, including via the Internet, in order to maintain the growth trend in incoming tourism to Israel as it was in 2008," said the ministry's director-general, Shaul Tzemach. "Increasing our marketing activities online affords marketing accessibility to many potential target markets, promotes incoming tourism and improves Israel's overall image." The Tourism Ministry has also been incorporating mini-Web sites for specific demographics and target audiences. For the past four years, it has operated one promoting the Dead Sea as a curative destination for skin diseases. "This campaign has been quite successful," Shani said. "We used to market through doctors to patients, but now we cut out the middleman and get through directly to people." The ministry plans launch another mini-Web site devoted to Pope Benedict XVI's planned visit in May, targeted at an evangelical audience. A goal of the site, according to Shani, is for the images of Israel to connect visitors to the sites of specific companies where visitors can then purchase travel products and packages. It has already been operating one such Web site in Europe, "with very good numbers, a good sign for future sites," said Shani. In 2008, had 3.5 million visitors, a 100 percent increase from the 1.7 million visitors to the site in 2007. "The Internet is skyrocketing in importance. It accounts for more than 10% of our budget, and will surely account for more in the future," said Shani. Shani said that in another year, the Tourism Ministry will inaugurate a "totally new" Web site, with greater flexibility for visitors to post user-generated content and commentary. The sites in different languages will also operate with more flexibility to tailor their content to the audience that reads each language.