By RON FRIEDMAN
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov presented his ministry's three-year plan to boost tourism at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. The plan, which aims to bring in an additional one million foreign tourists by 2012, focuses mostly on attracting tourists who come to Israel for religious, historical and cultural purposes.
According to Misezhnikov, the boost in numbers will garner NIS 4.5 billion in income and create 40,000 new jobs, especially in Jerusalem and the periphery.
"The Tourism Ministry is an economic portfolio," he said. "As such, it is measured according to two main parameters: creating jobs and balancing income with expenses. For every 100,000 tourists, 4,000 jobs are created and NIS 450 million are invested in the Israeli economy."
The plan calls for the branding of Israel as a destination for dahat tourism, a Hebrew acronym for religion, history and culture. Misezhnikov said his office had identified Israel's central role in Judaism and Christianity and its rich historic and cultural legacy as the main attraction for tourists.
"We have no relative advantage over other countries in terms of vistas, beaches or leisure," he said. "On the contrary, we are at a disadvantage compared to some of our neighbors because of our troublesome security situation, our relatively high prices and our image of being inhospitable to tourists."
Misezhnikov said the other things Israel offered, including traditional tourists destinations like Tel Aviv, Eilat and the Dead Sea, and niche tourism attractions such as bird watching, cycling and food and wine, would be byproducts of the overarching branding of Israel as "the Holy Land, with Jerusalem at its heart."
The ministry set up a fourthronged action plan, which was approved by the cabinet last week.
The first pillar in the plan is marketing Israel to the correct audiences. According to the ministry, the sectors Israel should be focusing on are Evangelical Christians, Russian Orthodox and Catholic Christians and Jews. The marketing strategy will concentrate on the United States, Canada, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Scandinavian countries.
The ministry will also attempt to attract people in China, South Korea and Latin America.
Misezhnikov said there was also great potential in the Russian tourist market. He said Russians spend a lot of money when on vacation, citing the benefits from Israel's agreement last year to remove the demand for visas.
Misezhnikov said the ministry would use a variety of information-technology tools to attract and maintain contact with tourists. Among the suggestions are creating a call center, upgrading the ministry's Web site, creating a customerrelations management system, introducing twitter and YouTube channels and combining potential tourists databases.
The second pillar of the plan, expanding employment, calls for the ministry to provide assistance in the formation of small and medium businesses through assisting in removing bureaucratic obstacles and providing marketing guidance for entrepreneurs.
Additional assistance will be given by providing professional training and improving the image of tourism-orientated jobs, with a focus on the periphery.
The third pillar, improving the tourism product, includes re-branding Tel Aviv and Eilat to attract specific audiences, creating a tourism police, providing incentives to outstanding service providers, creating a system for ranking hotels and guest houses and running a public campaign intended to educate Israelis on gracious treatment of tourists.
The fourth pillar addresses investing in infrastructure and encouraging construction of new hotels.
"Despite the global economic crisis and a war in early 2009, the Israeli tourist sector dropped only 11% from its 2008 peak and surpassed performance in all previous years," Misezhnikov said.
The US was the largest country of origin for incoming tourism, with 550,000 visitors, or 21% of all incoming tourism. Russia was second, with 400,000 visitors; France was third, with 260,000; followed by the UK, with 170,000; and Germany, with Thirty-nine percent of incoming tourists were Jewish, 54% Christian and the remainder either from other religions or with no religious affiliation. Nearly half of the tourists were visiting Israel for the first time.
Nearly a quarter of the tourists said the purpose of their visit was for holiday and leisure, 31% for pilgrimage and 6% for touring and sightseeing.
The average foreign tourist expenditure in Israel in 2009 was $1,083, including overseas expenses. The average daily expenditure was about $100.
To boost domestic tourism, which has some 16 million overnight stays, the ministry has proposed passing a "vacation law" that would reduce taxes for Israelis staying in local hotels.
Misezhnikov attributed the 3% increase in domestic tourism during 2009 to the global economic crisis and the diplomatic fallout with Turkey.
"I did not call on vacationers to ban Turkey, but I did encourage workers unions to bring their employees to Israeli destinations at the time of the crisis," he said.
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