susan NEW LOCATION. Isrotel on the Dead Sea (Courtesy photo) Travel Trends: Top officials turn out for HU travel conference NATHAN BURSTEIN The connection between tourism and politics went under the spotlight this week at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations hosting a two-day conference on the topic. The unique challenges and advantages facing promoters of tourism to Israel were explored in a number of sessions, with conference guests speaking about how best to keep tourism strong in the face of conflict and safety threats, as well as how tourism can be used to promote a country's public image and whether tourism can serve as a tool for peace. The conference was opened by Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and Shaul Zemach, the director-general of the Tourism Ministry, and also featured speakers from the US, England and Holland. Other issues explored during the conference included eco-tourism, how the security barrier is affecting travel to Israel and the West Bank, and the impact of Christian tourism during the second Intifada. Declining dollar boosts travel abroad The dollar's continuing slide is encouraging more and more Israelis to spend their shekels abroad. Travel agencies across the country are reporting increased bookings to foreign destinations, with Tel Aviv-based Eshet Tours claiming a 20% rise in reservations over a year ago. The diminished dollar means Israelis' money is stretching farther everywhere the currency is tied to the dollar - particularly, among foreign hot spots for Israelis in Turkey and the Far East. Travel agents are doing their best to capitalize on the current exchange rate, of course, encouraging potential travelers to book their trips now lest the dollar enjoy a sudden resurgence. Books for before you book Steimatzky is offering travelers a special book sale just before the busy summer vacation season kicks off. The book chain has dubbed May "Tours Around the World" month, offering discounts on guide books, travel maps and other helpful trip planners, as well as on diversions like board games and music for road trips and long flights. Detective novels, humor books and other beach reads are also going on sale, with offerings from Israeli writers including Yonatan Gefen and Yair Lapid and from English-language authors such as Candace Bushnell. The book-seller has also dropped the price of Sefer Tisa (Flight Book), an enjoyable combined effort by TV comedians Eyal Kitzis and Tal Friedman. Isrotel gains a Dead Sea foothold Isrotel is setting up shop at the Dead Sea. The 22-year-old hotel chain officially gained ownership this week of what was formerly the Caesar Premiere Hotel, a resort located among the collection of overnight accommodations not far from Ein Bokek. The new acquisition will become Isrotel's 12th hotel, joining the chain's eight Eilat locations and its overnight offerings in Tel Aviv, Mitzpeh Ramon and the Carmel Forest. Isrotel plans to spend NIS 8 million by year's end in upgrades to its new Dead Sea outpost, renovating the rooms and lobby and installing a second "luxury" restaurant. The company found a manager for the new hotel from within, transferring the head of Isrotel Tower in Tel Aviv to the new beachside location on the Dead Sea. Israir offers one-day packages to Eilat Israir Airlines has come up with an appealing bid to fill its mid-week flights to Eilat. Between now and June 30, the airline is offering "Fun Day" packages to the country's southernmost city, with travelers leaving Tel Aviv in the morning and returning by nightfall after time spent on the beach, in the swimming pool or at the spa. As part of the deal, passengers eat breakfast or lunch at an Eilat hotel and can enjoy a variety of leisure options for the rest of their day, including time at the spa, sauna, workout room or hydrotherapy pools of the Herod's Palace Hotel. Other options include a visit to the city's Dolphin Reef, four hours on a yacht or snorkeling. The deal is offered on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays - excluding holidays - and costs between NIS 444 and 499. Air France raises surcharge A month after rising fuel costs forced El Al to increase ticket prices, Air France has followed suit. The European air carrier is charging an additional 16 euros on its medium-haul routes, including flights between Israel and Paris. The airline is also charging 12 euros more for tickets within France, and an extra 57 euros on the company's long-haul flights.