'Foreign Ministry strike may lead to tourism crisis'

Tourism Industries Liason Bureau chief writes letter to Lieberman: "Israel is suffering a blow to its reputation."

tourisme russe (photo credit: )
tourisme russe
(photo credit: )
A week after Foreign Ministry employees stopped providing consular services as part of their wage dispute with the Treasury, the tourism and business sectors are warning of impending crisis.
On Thursday, Michael Federman, chairman of the Tourism Industries Liaison Bureau, wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, calling on him to take urgent action to end the strike in order to prevent a financial crisis as well as severe harm to Israel’s reputation.
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“After a long period of crisis, which we managed to overcome, succeeding in greatly increasing the number of incoming tourists, we may once again stand on the brink of a crisis because of the labor disruptions,” Feldman wrote. “In addition to the immediate financial damage caused by the cancellation of tourist visits, Israel is also suffering a blow to its reputation, which may erase our achievements. I urge you to do everything in your power to stop the disruptions so that the tourism industry continue to bloom.”
Ami Etgar, director-general of the Incoming Tourist Board, which associates dozens of travel agencies and tour operators, said it was difficult to measure the precise number of people who failed to come to Israel because of the strike, but that he knew of several groups and individuals who had planned to arrive, but were unable to do so because they couldn’t issue entrance visas.
“The strike especially harms the hoteliers and the organizers of international conferences or conventions, people who depend on incoming visitors for their livelihood and have no idea when they will be able to carry on normally,” Etgar said.
In a letter he sent to Lieberman earlier this week, with copies to the prime minister and the ministers of finance and tourism, Etgar wrote, “The implications of ceasing to give out visas translates to income losses for hotels, tourism operators, transportation companies, tour guides, commercial airlines and others in the tourism industry.”
Etgar said that he had yet to receive a response from any of the ministers.
According to Etgar, some people, who come from countries where Israel does not have an embassy, can still be issued visas through the Ministry of Interior’s visa department with aid of travel agents, but that this was only a partial solution and only suitable for a small number of people.
Lior Gelfand, director of ORTRA, a company that specializes in organizing conferences, said the continued strike harmed Israel’s business interests, because some people who planned to come to meet with local colleagues and sign deals were unable to arrive.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot here.
These are people who want to come here and do business with Israeli companies, but can’t because of the strike. If it continues they will simply give up on it and go on to the next country. They don’t have time to wait until the Foreign Ministry gets its act together,” he said.
Gelfand expressed particular concern over cancellations ahead of an large tourism conference in February.
“We have people from places like Thailand, India, Romania etc... who have scheduled their arrival, booked their hotels, set up meetings and now have to cancel everything because they can’t get a visa.
These cancellations cost money,” Gelfand said. “The height of absurdity is that for the upcoming tourism conference, we, together with the Tourism Ministry, have invited 150 ‘hosted buyers’ to come here, at our expense, to help us market the Israeli tourism product in their countries. These people are influential agents in their market.
Not enabling some of them to come means that instead of promoting Israel, we are actually damaging Israel.”
Diplomatic worker’s committee spokesman Yacov Livne told The Jerusalem Post that the staffers were aware of the harm that was being caused to the tourism and business sectors by the strike and said it would probably only increase in the weeks and months to come. He urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene to bring the strike to an end.
“Both we and the Israeli public at large are wondering why he has failed to take any steps toward ending the strike, which is harming Israel financially and diplomatically.
We see the damage after only one week and dread to see what will happen if the strike carries on for much longer,” Livne said.
Ministry workers have been waging a work dispute since February 2010 in an effort to equalize their pay and work conditions with those of Defense Ministry and Mossad employees. Last week, the workers committee stepped up sanctions, including a complete stop in issuing visas.
The Foreign Ministry’s website currently features the following message: “Due to the ongoing labor dispute at the Foreign Ministry, the Foreign Service Workers’ Association has declared a series of work sanctions as of December 27, 2010. Consequently, the Consular Department will not be providing services to the public, and will not answer phone calls or e-mails.”
The Tourism Ministry spokeswoman said the ministry was closely following the developments in the strike and hoped that it would come to an end soon and with minimum harm to the tourism sector.