New Tourism Minister Uzi Landau
seems to have found a solution for increasing the number of tourists arriving in Israel.
Like his predecessor, Stas Misezhnikov, his plan involves the Evangelical Christian population – but focuses on the younger generation.
In a press conference held in Tel Aviv ahead of the Jewish New Year,
the minister said his future plans for increasing the volume of tourism to Israel included an initiative to conduct a Taglit-style
journey for young Evangelicals.
"The Christians have a problem with their next generation too," the minister explained. "We are looking to get closer to this public in order to generate tourism and support for Israel when they return to their homeland, become our ambassadors and view Israel not through CNN's eyes."
According to Landau, who took office about five months ago, the ministry he heads focuses on digital marketing "in order to concentrate on certain target groups we believe in," as opposed to financial investment in marketing Israel worldwide.
"We won't be able to invest $50 million and more in the coming year to brand the State of Israel, as suggested by the Ernst & Young consulting company," he said, adding that he was looking for other alternatives.
The Taglit (Birthright Israel) project, which began in 1999, is a Zionist initiative by the Jewish Agency and Jewish communities in the Diaspora, which aims to take Jews who have never visited Israel on a 10-day tour of the Jewish state and bring them closer to their roots and to the State. The project is funded by philanthropists.
"We won't be able to invest in the project," the minister says in regards to the Christian "Taglit" project, "but one of the ideas raised in the meeting I held on the matter was that the community itself would fund the journey."
Landau is putting the emphasis on incoming tourism as Israel's national-economic engine, with some NIS 28-30 billion ($7.77-8.32 billion) earned by the State from incoming tourism in the past year alone.
"Tourism is not shoddy work like many people think," the minister said. "It's a very important field which Israel's growth leans on. It's basically the employment office where more than 200,000 people are employed directly."
As for hotel ratings,
an issue which has been on the minister's table for several months now, Landau believes consumers will benefit as will hoteliers in terms of reliability, and this will allow consumers to regain trust in what they see.
"Rating hotels according to the European method gives partial rather than general information, but this method is better than nothing," he explained, adding that that the rating process would likely begin in April.
'Hotel rating will benefit consumers and hoteliers,' Landau says (Photo: Shutterstock)
Landau, a member of the rightist Likud Beiteinu
party, is not limiting the investment in tourist development across Israel. Early last month he visited the West Bank city of Hebron and said its Jewish heritage must be developed.
"I don't see the Green Line as a limitation," he said during the press conference. "For me the important thing is creating tourism as a general tool and emphasizing Jewish identity."
Landau is aware of Israel's expensive vacation prices and has come up with several solutions. First of all, he said, the bureaucracy of kashrut must be cut down.
"I'm not certain that we need more than one room for a kosher supervisor to do his job," the minister explained. "We no longer need security officers at the entrance to hotels either, and I am trying – in cooperation with the Public Security Ministry, to remove this unnecessary security.
Another unnecessary cost in Landau's opinion is gyms operated in hotels.
The southern resort town of Eilat,
which has suffered from quite a few security-related events and threats over the past year, has been declared by the government as a top priority, Landau said, adding that his office was investing millions of shekels in the city and providing grants of 20% for investments in hotels.
"One of the most important things for Eilat is cheap transportation and easy access," the minister said in regards to the planned train in Eilat and the airport in Timna, and promised that charter companies landing in the city would be exempt of a landing fee.
"Most tourism arriving in Eilat is domestic tourism," the minister said. "That changes its character and leads to a new problem – the hotels in the city are facing Turkey, which offers Israelis the 'all inclusive.' That leads to another problem on the part of restaurants in the city, which complain of lack of clients."