Israel Tourism News Roundup

Israel Ministry of Tourism logo. Tour guide. Eshkol. grapes.
Logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism

I’m going to try to start doing regular posts where I summarize recent news stories with relevance to the tourism industry in Israel. These might have to do with plans the Tourism Ministry is making, events or news about hotels or airlines, or anything that might affect the tour guiding business directly. If any of you come across relevant news stories that you think I might not have seen, please feel free to forward my way! Thanks! And as always, I’d love to hear any responses or opinions in the comments section.

For starters this week, good news! The number of visiting tourists in Israel has increased again, already passing last year’s figures. This year is on track to set new records for incoming Israeli tourists. I was going to hold off on publicizing and analyzing the numbers until the end of the year, but it has been such a prevalent story for every period this year, that I figured a mention at this point, when we just passed last year’s figures, would be worth it.

Of course, meeting the needs of that increase in tourists requires an investment in infrastructure. And at this week’s World Travel Market in London, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov addressed this need. He said the ministry will be overseeing rapid hotel development, acting as a “one-stop shop for hotel building.” Interestingly, the Ministry is focusing its efforts outside of Jerusalem, recognizing that to truly accommodate the number of tourists they are hoping for, they will need to utilize the entire country.

(By the way, while on the topic of hotels, I wanted to mention that some of Jerusalem’s hotels have started to embrace social media as a means of building their customer base. The lush Inbal Hotel have been pioneers in this area, utilizing both Facebook and Twitter, and extending the community into the real world via hotel-based “TweetUps.” Follow them at @inbalhotel on Twitter. They have recently been joined on Twitter by the “new kid on the block” — the upscale Mamilla Hotel. Their Twitter account is — you guessed it — @mamillahotel. They have yet to figure out that the key to using Twitter successfully is to engage in conversation and use it to build community. At the current time they are only using it as a one-way broadcast of announcements. But hopefully this is a step to increasing the market share of all of Jerusalem’s hotels. I’d love to see the pie grow in size, rather than seeing it simply cut up in different ways.)

To that end, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been promoting Tel Aviv as an important destination in its own right. In addition to focusing on its world class beaches, the MFA’s article mentions Tel Aviv’s spot on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, due to its Bauhaus architecture. It also talks about the city’s cultural offerings, and the way the city has been developing events to appeal to an international audience, including the Tel Aviv Marathon and various film and music festivals.

Another result of the increase in tourist numbers is an increase in flights. Both the WTM article and the article about Tel Aviv discuss this. A 13% increase in flights during the winter season is expected. This will include flights by 53 foreign carriers and an increase in flights by Israeli carriers. Misezhnikov also said he expected a fourth airline to establish a permanent route to Israel from the UK. Currently, only El Al, British Airways and easyJet fly regular routes here.

What are some other ways the government is trying to continue to increase tourist numbers? At the WTM, Misezhnikov discussed eased visa restrictions for Russia as one method. He also mentioned further cooperation between Israel and the tourism offices of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. “Pilgrims don’t want to know about borders, so we are simplifying things for them,” he said.

Israel is also focusing on publicizing its offerings to the people who book tours — tour operators. These are people who create all-inclusive package tours for groups, as opposed to the people who make their own arrangements while traveling. To this end, the Ministry of Tourism, along with industry representatives and El Al Airlines, will be hosting “Where Else: Israel” in December. The 8-day convention will take operators on one of two travel itineraries, one to the Dead Sea and Eilat, the other in Tiberias, Nazareth, Akko and Haifa. The trips will be bookended by events for participants of both itineraries — an opening event in Jerusalem and a closing in Tel Aviv.

Advertising is another. In Toronto, the tourism office there unveiled a campaign to advertise on the sides of a luxury bus that shuttles travelers from the airport to several downtown hotels. In addition to being visible to the travelers themselves, it will also be seen in highly visible areas during its ten daily round trips.

The Tourism Ministry will also be relaunching last year’s successful Chanukah website. The website allows visitors to “light a candle” for each night of the holiday, unlocking information about tourism in Israel. At the end, those who have lit all eight candles will be entered to win a free trip to Israel.

Of course, the Tourism Ministry knows better than anyone that the bulk of tourists to Israel are actually non-Jews. Christian pilgrims form a huge part of this country’s tourism market. Thus, the Ministry is in the middle of a ten-week campaign aimed at this market in the United States. Furthermore, the Ministry has recently launched a slick new website aimed directly at the Christian market, called Walk Where Jesus Walked. Though it is geared towards the UK Christian market, it will certainly be useful to all Christian pilgrims.

And speaking of Christian tourists, Minister Misezhnikov may have a bit of an uncomfortable situation on his hands. Following the well-publicized rescue of the trapped Chilean miners, he offered to fly them and their significant others to Israel for an all-expenses paid trip over Christmas. A few days ago, the miners accepted Misezhnikov’s offer, on the condition that they could also bring more family members.

[T]he list wasn’t limited to the miners and their partners: It also included a long list of additional names. The list included 33 miners, 31 partners, two mothers of two single miners, the miners’ 33 children, one grandchild, one nephew and one partner’s daughter.

And if that wasn’t enough, one miner asked to bring both his wife and his mistress.

How do you say “chutzpa” en Espanol?

Regardless, now the Minister has a bit of a PR nightmare to handle. Does he spend a tremendous amount more money to accommodate all of these other travelers, or does he play hardball and ruin whatever good publicity he might have gained? I’ll try to follow up on the story in my next Israel Tourism News roundup. Either way, I wish you luck Mr. Misezhnikov!

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