Israel is set to unveil its plans aimed at turning the Negev Desert into a global tourism hotspot, officials announced Sunday.
The Tourism Ministry is expected to present the government with a thorough program on achieving this goal soon.
"This is the next step for Israel when it comes to the tourism sector," the ministry's announcement said.
Over the years, Israel has drastically changed its strategy when it comes to tourism marketing.
While in the past the country was marketed as a single package with many attractions, mainly for pilgrims, now the focus has shifted to specific cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat.
"The Negev is a region characterized by an abundance of unique historical, geological and cultural riches," the ministry said.
"The Negev region's mild climate allows its marketing to a wide range of target audiences. Also, the comfortable weather in the winter season is an advantage for tourism, mainly from Europe. The increase in demand for desert tourism in the world, sustainable tourism and the establishment of Ramon Airport also contribute to the Negev's relative advantages as a world-leading international tourist destination."
The ministry's plan to expand the tourism sector into the desert could be a serious boost to local businesses, potentially increasing the number of available jobs in the area.
Officials also hope the plans would result in more people moving into the region.
It also hopes that the possible economic upturn will help fast track the IDF's planned move of some of its bases to the Negev.
According to the ministry's calculation, the plan could bring in millions to Israel's national treasury. Based on the latest data, the annual income from tourism is NIS 44 billion, of which 23 billion are from foreign visitors.
"The development of the tourism sector in the Negev and Israel's south is an important national objective," said Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov.
"Now, after we have allowed tourists to return to Israel after the gates were closed for nearly 20 months due to the pandemic, it is time for us to offer to the world all that is good and beautiful in this country."
Razvozov said that the post-pandemic vacationing has been characterized by people wanting more open spaces, which he asserted the Negev can provide in abundance.
However, some officials worry that the plan could jeopardize the Negev's environment.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel welcomed the ministry's proposal, but warned that it may damage open natural spaces in the region.
"The Negev is an important and unique area, steeped in nature, landscape and wildlife, with the chief national mission being its conservation and protection," the NGO said.
"The Society for the Protection of Nature supports the development of tourism in the Negev, which will be based on existing development centers, while preserving nature, the landscape and the open spaces. The development of sustainable tourism has tremendous potential, if it is carried out in combination with and while preserving the nature, landscape and open spaces in the area."