Levin sees Israel hosting 4m foreign tourists in 2018

Yariv Levin

Israel's Tourism Minister says Israel is being rebranded as a vacation destination rather than solemn place of pilgrimage.

"In crises, the ones who remain are Israeli companies El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL), Arkia Airlines Ltd., and Israir Airlines and Tourism Ltd., and we have to preserve them," Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin said yesterday at an Israel Tourist and Travel Agents conference . As it happens, Levin is responsible for bringing a great many foreign airlines to Israel, such as Hainan Airlines of China and low-cost airline Ryanair.

Levin, who has been in his post for two and a half years, takes credit for the record number of tourists who have visited Israel. "The tourist sector in Israel still relies mostly on internal tourism," he said. "Action must be taken to counter stagnation wherever it appears. Competition from inexpensive overseas options is intense. Substantial investments are necessary in order to change the picture."

Levin added, "We have changed the market concept from the outmoded idea of Israel being a destination for Jews and pilgrims. These segments are very narrow and vulnerable to security problems, and we therefore reached the limit of the potential very quickly. Advertising was focused on holy and solemn places. We decided to change the approach, and to sell Israel as a vacation destination. We discovered that demand existed, but there is no one to sell Israel as a product. The reason is that we previously worked with travel agents who worked with a limited specific community. There was no one who could sell a vacation package to Israel."

Levin continued, "We signed agreements with all of the world's tourist giants. We signed with Ctrip (the Chinese company that acquired Skyscanner, M. R.-C.), as well as other tourist giants like Expedia. We switched to aggressive competition in advertising - organic advertising that will put us on the home pages of recommended websites, so that someone who wants to travel to Rome will get an offer for Jerusalem.

"We started seeing the numbers going up. We realized that something else was also needed. There has been a huge change in civil aviation in recent years. It worked in one direction - it sent Israelis outwards, while bringing almost no tourists back. Routes were developed for destinations that it was thought that Israelis would want to visit, without thinking about destinations from which tourists could be brought to Israel."

Levin cited China as an example. "We changed this thinking for China. We will reach at least 150,000 tourists in 2018, four times as many as we have had up until now. From four flights to Eilat, we have expanded to 52 weekly flights to Eilat.

"Another problem we are addressing is visas. This is an outdated obstacle that should vanish from the world. Israel demands visas from China and India with burdensome requirements from tourists and Israelis. No such requirements are being made from the Philippines, with which relations already existed. We managed to create shortcuts, but we have the task of ensuring these visas.

"We will finish this year with more than 3.5 million tourists. A new record was set in each one of the past 12 months. 426,000 tourists arrived in October. If this pace is kept up for 12 months, it will mean more than five million tourists in a year. The pace of reservations for 2018 has been unprecedented. Four million tourists is a realistic number.

"Up until now, we have been thinking about how to bring people. Today, the problem of infrastructure is growing and becoming more acute. There are infrastructure problems at tourist sites, such as the Western Wall, to which public transportation has no access. We have a shortage of motels and popular hotels. We have reached a pace of 6,000 rooms under construction, compared with 1,500 rooms several years ago.

"In addition, we will also invest in improving tourist sites, such as the decision to establish the Israel National Trail, like other countries around the world. The National Trail will pass through all of Israel, including parts that some people think it should not pass through for reasons that I am unwilling to understand and accept."

El Al CEO: We have been through tough times

El Al CEO David Maimon told the conference, "Although the skies have been opened, almost no tourists have been added to the country. The market was opened, and we may reach 3.5 million tourists. The Ministry of Tourism is doing exceptional work, but the main problem we face is a shortage of popularly priced hotels. The Ministry of Tourism is supporting, marketing, and subsidizing new routes. If I take the Ministry of Tourism's marketing budget and see how many come to El Al? It is 0.5%, and we carry 35% of the tourists visiting the country. Balancing and correction is needed," Maimon said, addressing Levin.

The event is Maimon's last as CEO of El Al, after he recently announced his resignation. "El Al has signed the Israir deal, and I hope it is approved soon," he said, adding, "Loyalty to El Al is being created by its frequent flyers club with its 1.8 million members. 300,000 people hold a Fly Card credit card, and their turnover amounts to NIS 21 million. We have entered the insurance field by starting with auto policies that can be paid with points. Millions of points are being used to acquire hotel rooms. We'll get into car rentals and auto buying using points.

"We have been through tough times, and El Al overcame them - from security events to the pilots crisis. El Al will be here no matter what," Maimon told the travel agents, it can be assumed in the context of the strengthening of foreign airlines, among other things at the cost of El Al.

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on November 29, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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