Steinitz to hoteliers: ‘You have my support’

Finance minister lauds tourism industry for major boost to national economy at Israel Hotel Association convention.

steinitz hoteliers 311 (photo credit: Shalev Communications)
steinitz hoteliers 311
(photo credit: Shalev Communications)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz credited Israel’s tourism sector on Wednesday with playing a major role in the country’s rapid exit from the global financial crisis.
Steinitz, who was giving the keynote address at the annual Israel Hotel Association (IHA) convention in Jerusalem, said that the hotels’ contribution to the economy was “greater than gold,” and particularly pointed out the sector’s importance in creating jobs throughout the periphery.
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“In order to remain with balanced employment rates, the Israeli market has to create 50,000 new jobs every year. In 2009, we only created 8,000 jobs, but in 2010 we created 100,000. I attribute much of the fantastic increase to the blossoming of the tourism industry,” said Steinitz.
“The special advantage of tourism, and of the hotel industry in particular, is that you employ people all across the country: in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Tiberias, Acre, the Dead Sea and Eilat, and not just in the Center,” he added.
According to initial estimates by the IHA, Israel’s hotels produced 12,000 new jobs in 2010, 12 percent of the total of new jobs created.
Steinitz said that in order to aid the tourism sector, the Finance Ministry had to focus on three main investment avenues: marketing, the construction of new hotels and the construction of tourist attractions.
The finance minister recalled that as a young student, he used to work as a tour guide, leading groups of local and foreign tourists all over the country. He said he had recently been reemployed as a tour guide when he escorted OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on a visit to Tel Megiddo and Caesarea during Gurría’s trip to Israel.
“On the visit to Megiddo, I told Gurría that we were going to a site where there may not be much to see, but it is actually one of the most important historic, cultural and religious places in the world,” said Steinitz.
“I think that we can do more to make those places attractive and accessible,” he continued.
“I think that we should dig deeper, so there is something more to see and not only to explain about. I think that we can build more cable cars so that elderly people can reach the hilltops. I think we can build more boardwalks along our beaches and produce more concerts and performances for people to go to. These tourist attractions will pay for themselves and also contribute to the hotel sector by giving people a reason to stay another night or two.”
Steinitz concluded by pledging his support to the hotel industry.
“I promise to give tourism my personal attention,” he declared.
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov also spoke about the need for new tourist attractions and called on the Finance Ministry to give him the discretionary freedom to allocate budgets for that purpose.
“I am the only minister who is not asking for more budgets,” he said. “I only want to be free to allocate the money I have in the way I see fit.”
Meseznikov also spoke about a decision he faced regarding the fate of the Dead Sea hotels and whether or not to move the six of them that are closest to the shoreline, due to danger of flooding. Relocating the hotels is only one of three options currently on the table and under investigation. The others are building a barrier that would create a maintainable lagoon abutting the coastline, or carrying out salt harvests in which all of the accumulated salts were removed from the seabed.
“At the end of January, I am supposed to announce which of the possible options I will recommend that the government chooses, in order to save and develop the region,” said Meseznikov. “In order to start building a hotel, it is necessary to look at the chance and not just at the risk. Let’s look to the light at the end of the darkness.
I expect the industry to share in creating a long-term vision for the region.”
During the conference, the participants also heard lectures from former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Gabriella Shalev, who spoke about the effect that Israel’s image in the world had on local tourism, and from Markus Luthe, director- general of the German Hotel association, who spoke about hotel-ranking systems in the European Union.
The conference also featured the announcement of the winners of the Council for a Beautiful Israel’s most beautiful hotel competition.
The winners were Plaza Hacienda in Maalot, Isrotel Dead Sea and Lot spa and hotel in the Dead Sea.
On Tuesday evening, leading hoteliers from Israel and around the world gathered at the Tel Aviv Hilton for the launching of a new book published by the association, chronicling 3,000 years of commercial lodging in Israel – all the way back to biblical times.
The new book, titled Malon Orhim (Guest Hotel), examines the Israeli hotel industry from the days of Abraham to today and will be available in bookstores in the beginning of 2011.
The evening, which was attended by President Shimon Peres and tourism ministers past and present, also featured awards for industry leaders’ achievements in the hotel sector.
Rafi Sadeh, CEO of the Fatal hotel chain, and Leslie Adler and Danny Lipman, the owners of Atlas Hotels, received lifetime achievement awards.
Manufacturers Association president Shraga Brosh received an award for his assistance to the industry.
The conference members also voted for a new president for the IHA. Ami Federman beat out current president Eli Gonen with 99 votes against Gonen’s 70.