Travel Trends: Haifa seeks greater share of tourism

City will promote itself as a "strategic" starting point for visits to the Galilee and tourist spots on the coast.

ashdod port ribbon cut (photo credit: Courtesy)
ashdod port ribbon cut
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Watch out, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - in the hunt for tourism revenue, Haifa wants in on the action. Israel's third largest city has released the results of a survey of its tourist offerings and areas of potential growth, following a a similar study initiated on a national level last year by the Tourism Ministry. The Haifa study, jointly conducted by the Ernst & Young and IPK International consulting groups, makes suggestions in a number of areas, calling on the city to more actively promote itself as a "strategic" starting point for visits to the Galilee and tourist spots on the Mediterranean coast. The report also suggests pursuing increased numbers of visitors to the city's Bahai Gardens, which currently attract between 5,500 and 6,500 visitors a year out of a global Bahai population of between five or six million. Marketing efforts by city tourism officials would be wise to focus on its proximity to both the beach and Mount Carmel, as well as to nature sites in the Carmel Forest and elsewhere in the region, the report stated. It also suggested the city enhance its dining and other night life offerings, proposing that it develop its port as a center for going-out options for both daytime and evening. Other suggestions from the Ernst & Young/IPK study: encouraging increased visits to the city by international cruise lines; promoting private investment in local tourism; and creating sailing trips between Haifa, Acre and Caesarea. Noting the strong growth in business tourism to Haifa over the past decade - business travelers represented the largest growth group for the city - the report called on Haifa officials to continue efforts to pull in additional business visitors, particularly those in the hi-tech industry. The report was warmly received by representatives of the city's tourism industry and by Haifa's mayor, Yona Yahav. Like the mayor, the report suggests the city's domestic airport become an international one, offering international charter flights and commercial carriers an additional point of entry into Israel. Recommendations were based in part on surveys conducted in 14 countries identified as potential sources of tourist traffic to Haifa including China, India, Russia, the US and Canada, Britain, the Scandinavian countries and other nations in central and western Europe. Syria to make push for more foreign visits Haifa isn't the only place on the eastern Mediterranean looking to attract more tourists. In a weekend interview with Reuters, Syria's Tourism Minister Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa said his country is launching a major initiative to bring more foreigners to Damascus and Aleppo, describing Syria as an "island" - presumably of calm and security - "in a troubled region." The country plans to increase its hotel beds by 66 percent between now and 2010, and is spending $5.5 million this year on overseas marketing efforts, up from $1.5m. just one year ago. The ministry is seeking a $10m. million promotional budget for next year, an amount that will put it in the same league as Israel, which plans to spend NIS 55m. (currently about $13.75m.) on foreign promotional efforts over the next year. Despite its laissez-faire approach to tourism until now, Syria claims to have enjoyed rapid growth in the number of foreign visits since its current leader, Bashar Assad, took over in 2000. The country's Tourism Ministry claims 3.1 million foreigners visited the country in 2006, up from 1.7 million six years earlier. Israel's best year for foreign tourism came in 2000, when 2.41 million international visitors entered the country. Syria's intensified efforts at self-promotion are unlikely to have a spillover effect for Israel, of course. The country doesn't accept visitors with Israeli stamps in their passports, and trips from Syria to Israel can only made via Jordan, Turkey or other intermediary countries. Customs exemptions raised at land crossings Israelis returning home by land will now pay customs fees at the same rates as those entering by land and sea, the Tax Authority announced Wednesday. Previously, Israelis crossing into the country from Jordan and Egypt were required to pay taxes on goods totaling $100 or more. That amount has now been raised to $200, the same cut-off as at the country's airports and seaports. The change was made, the Tax Authority said, to simplify and standardize the process of returning home for Israelis traveling abroad. The change does not apply, tax officials note, to Israelis spending less than three days overseas - a rule designed, they say, to cut down on the "exploitation" of customs exemptions at each of the country's border crossings. New and improved passenger terminal at Ashdod Port Arriving in Ashdod by ship just got more pleasant. In a ceremony Wednesday attended by Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and Ashdod Port Company chair Iris Stark, port officials opened the facility's new passenger terminal, which has been refurbished and updated at a price of NIS 10m. The renovated terminal's opening comes not long after the return of international cruise ships to Ashdod, which experienced a nearly seven-year dry period in tourist traffic owing to the second Intifada. The port, which handles 42% of Israel's total shipping traffic, greets 50% of all tourists arriving in the country by sea. French named worst tourists French tourists are the most unpleasant of any in the world, according to 15,000 European hoteliers surveyed by travel Web site Filling out the rest of the "top" five in the race for the dubious honor were travelers from India, China, Russia and Britain, the "winner" of the bad tourist poll five years ago. Britons' relative improvement in the rankings was accompanied by mixed results in other categories, with UK travelers earning positive attention as the world's third-biggest spenders while on vacation (behind Americans and Russians) but earning second-place on the list of the worst dressers (Americans ranked first here, as well). Japanese tourists came out atop the list as the world's best tourists, while travelers from the US and Switzerland ranked second and third. Israeli tourists didn't figure prominently in the poll, for better or worse, though bad overseas behavior by Israeli travelers continues to be a source of concern for the country's Tourism Ministry and public image consultants. Costlier than a stolen hotel bathrobe Profit-minded hoteliers have been known for taking draconian measures from time-to-time to prevent guests from stealing towels and bathrobes. No word on how Japan's Kominato Hotel has held up on that front, but one thing is for certain: its management is going to be keeping a much closer eye on the establishment's bathtubs. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a golden bathtub on the hotel's 10th floor has gone missing, despite weighing 176 pounds and being kept open to hotel guests just a few hours a day "for security reasons." Hotel security precautions apparently didn't include riveting the 18-karat gold tub, worth nearly $1m., to the floor, and the luxury bathtub has now vanished. "We have no witness information and there are no video cameras," AP quoted a local police official as saying. "We have no idea who took it."