Hotels Association says bad upkeep of cities discouraging tourists

After 1.9 million tourists arrived in Israel last year, the Tourism Ministry has set its goal at bringing 3 million in 2006, while the IHA has set a more conservative goal of 2.4 million.

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The state of major tourist cities are becoming major turn offs for visitors, the Israel Hotels Association said Monday as it called on the government to create a special budget to ensure the cleanliness and presentability of the country's tourist attractions. "We get alot of complaints from visitors about the state of the cleanliness in the city," said Raphael Farber, chairman of the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem and vice president of the IHA, at the association's end of year press briefing in Tel Aviv. "For tourists it's a dream come true being in Jerusalem and they cannot understand the indifference of the government to present our cities according to US and European standards." Farber singled out Jerusalem and Tiberias as two cities which are most affected by the poor upkeep of the local councils. In Jerusalem, he noted, the streets are dirty, garbage is not collected and the road works never end, which is seen by tourists and detracts from their experience. Farber said the IHA realized long ago that the municipalities don't have the necessary budgets and the organization has turned to the central government to provide the funding and to spear head a project in cooperation with the municipalities and travel industry, to clean up the key sites in time for the busy summer period. After 1.9 million tourists arrived in Israel last year, the Tourism Ministry has set its goal at bringing 3 million in 2006, while the IHA has set a more conservative goal of 2.4 million. "It's very important to bring the tourists," Farber said. "But they have to leave with a good feeling. They are our goodwill ambassadors to bring more tourists." The IHA also said budgetary constraints had prevented it from carrying out much needed renovations at the country's hotels. "It's no secret that there is a need to improve the level of accommodation at the hotels," said Avi Ella, president of the IHA. "There's been no investment in upgrades for four or five years." Ella sees a need to allocate NIS 400 million for hotel renovations to be carried out over the next three years. Last week, Tourism Minister Avraham Hirschson submitted a request to the Finance Ministry, to establish a NIS 500m. fund to provide grants for renovating the country's hotels and building new ones. Ella said, however, there was no urgency to build new hotels yet as supply and demand for Israeli hotel rooms were expected to level off only after 2008. There were 46,900 hotel rooms in 2005 of which 2,700 were closed. IHA said the hotels were on average 56% full last year, compared to 48% in 2004 and occupancy was expected to grow to 61% this year. The highest average occupancy rate for the year was seen at the Dead Sea with 70%, followed by Herzliya at 67%, Eilat and Tel Aviv with 65% each, the Kibbutzim 59%, Haifa 54%, Jerusalem at 52% and Tiberias and Netanya at 45%. The IHA said it ended 2005 with a 12 percent rise in overnight stays to 19.1 million. Bookings by foreign tourists showed a 42% growth to 6.8 million overnight stays, while Israelis booked 12.3 million nights. Approximately one-third, or 2.1 million, of tourist bookings were made in Jerusalem hotels, up 58% from 2004, while 24%, or 1.6 million, were in Tel Aviv, 38% more than in 2004. IHA said it expects 2006 overnight stays to break the 20 million mark for the first time, with the main growth coming from tourist bookings. Eilat was once again the popular choice amongst Israelis, taking 45% of their bookings, while 14% went to the Dead Sea. Jerusalem enjoyed 27% more Israeli overnight stays in 2005, taking 6% of the total. Of the 18,000 people employed in the tourism industry in 2005, 2,300 were in the country's hotels, representing a 12% increase from the previous year. IHA predicted a further 9% growth in the hotel work force, to 3,000 workers, in 2006.