Carmel tour operators yearn for customers

While touring area, Tourism Minister Meseznikov pledges to assist region recover from damages, losses cause by fire.

Meseznikov in Carmel 311 (photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
Meseznikov in Carmel 311
(photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov announced on Tuesday that he planned to declare the Carmel region a disaster-stricken area as a temporary order of the Tourism Ministry. Meseznikov made the announcement while on a tour of the tourism facilities affected by last week’s forest fire.
Meseznikov pledged that his ministry would do its best to assist the tourism industry in the fire-stricken region overcome the damages and losses caused by the fire and presented a series of rehabilitative steps his ministry would promote.
The tour started out in Tirat Carmel, a mixed Jewish-Arab city located south of Haifa. Meseznikov met there with the mayor and promised his support to rehabilitate the city’s tourism infrastructure.
In the artists’ village of Ein Hod, Meseznikov met with Hof Hacarmel regional council head Carmel Sela and Ein Hod secretary-general Tzion Gez and surveyed the damage caused to residents’ houses and the rubble of the Nisco Museum of Mechanical Music, which was severely damaged in the fire.
“Ein Hod suffered the largest amount of damage to tourism facilities among all the villages in the area. Right now we are working on ways to fix the damage and bring back the tourists,” said Sela.
“We also want to make the best of the crisis and use it to upgrade our tourism infrastructure and increase tourist awareness of our facilities.”
“Our goal is to go back to the situation where I receive complaints about lack of parking and overcrowding in the galleries,” said Gez.
Carmelim Regional Tourism Board director Dafna Nof said the region needed the Tourism Ministry’s help in marketing and promoting music festivals held in Ein Hod, which she said could bring both local and international tourists in large numbers.
Meseznikov said that the ministry would help in marketing the village and its attractions and recommended that they seek ministry subsidies through the Tourism Ministry channels.
“You have our ears now, and we will do as much as we can to place you back on the map. We plan to designate Ein Hod and the other villages in the area as national priority areas, starting from the 2010-2011 budget. That should grant you access to additional funds and benefits,” said Meseznikov.
Sela said that a major challenge regional tourism faced was the public’s perception that the entire region was destroyed in the fire.
“The media did such a good job of reporting on the fire and raised the tragedy to such heights, that now everybody thinks we’re closed for business. We have to get the message out that despite the fire, we are open and yearning for tourists to arrive.”
Sela added that an order issued by the Agriculture Ministry stating that the Carmel National Park was closed off for visitors misled the public into thinking that the whole region was a no-go zone, stopping potential visitors from arriving.
Meseznikov visited the Nir Etzion hotel, where he saw for himself that it was undamaged and open for business.
In a discussion with Hotel Manager Yoel Raz, Meseznikov said that, despite his protests, the cabinet failed to authorize compensation for indirect damages like lost incomes caused by reservation cancellations. However, he said that his ministry could help regain some of the losses by proposing to the government that it hold all its future conferences and conventions in the region’s hotels.
Visiting the luxury hotel and spa resort Ye’arot Hacarmel, which incredibly escaped any serious damage by the fire, despite it reaching its very doorstep, Meseznikov said that he was sure that the tourists would return once the hotel reopened its doors in late January.
According to Isrotel regional accountant Gidi Gan Mor, the hotel, which suffered minor damage to its dining room, was insured both for direct and indirect damages and the staff was working day and night in order to have it up to standard on the day it reopens.
In Kibbutz Beit Oren, which bore the brunt of the physical damage to residences and where 40 families where forced out of their homes, Meseznikov surveyed the ruined neighborhood and met with the manager of the Kibbutz’s guesthouse.
While the guesthouse itself wasn’t damaged in the fire, the rooms have all been taken up by kibbutz members who lost their homes, explained Eyal Polak, the guesthouse manager.
“As you can hear, since the fire the phones have been silent. We have had no new reservations. As far as the world is concerned, the whole of Beit Oren and us with it went up in smoke. What we need is for people to hear and realize that we’re still here,” said Polak.

Following Beit Oren Meseznikov continued to visit the Druse villages of Daliat al-Carmel and Usfiya.
He summed up his visit to the north expressing optimism that, as far as tourism was concerned, the region could go back to normal in the near future.
Meseznikov also said that the government as a whole had learned from the lessons of the Second Lebanon War and was much quicker and more efficient in handing out compensation funds and providing fast solutions to citizens’ plights.