Despite a steady uptick in the numbers of foreign tourists visiting Israel during the first quarter of 2014, the Israel Hotel Association (IHA) has criticized the government for not allocating enough money to boost incoming tourism from the U.S. and beyond.
According to the latest Israel Ministry of Tourism statistics, 1.16 million visitors arrived in Israel (including day visitors) between January and April 2014, a 5 percent jump over the same period in 2013. Of these, 1.05 million were foreign tourists, a 16 percent increase over 2013. Despite these optimistic figures, IHA’s president, Eli Gonen, chided the Israeli government, claiming that tourism was still not a national priority. And he called on leaders to pump millions of additional dollars into the tourism ministry’s annual budget.
The IHA’s own statistics reflect only an 8 percent increase in the number of new hotel rooms built in Israel since 2000. Local and foreign hoteliers are not in a rush to invest in erecting new or revamping older hotel properties, as the current tourism market has not grown fast enough to spur the growth of potentially profitable enterprises.
“The government must give the hotel and tourism industry the proper support and put it at the top of the list of priorities,” said Gonen. “As far as I am concerned, this is no different than the crisis that the U.S. faced after the 9/11 attacks. America had an image problem, so the federal government actually stepped in to create a special budget for advertising, while many hotels offered special prices as well. The emergency budget had a tremendous impact on luring tourists back to New York and the U.S.”
In the two years after 9/11, the American tourism industry reported that the number of foreign tourists dropped from 47 million annual visitors to 41 million in 2003. After the government stepped in with an emergency budget, the number of visitors started to climb steadily. By 2005, nearly 48 million visitors came to America, and by last year, close to 70 million people had entered the U.S. to explore the country.
The Israeli government’s annual budget report, which runs to more than 80 pages, lays out the country’s priorities. “In accordance with the government’s policy,” the report says, “the main increases in the state budget for 2013-4 are in the areas of schooling, higher education, infrastructure, health and maintaining public order.” Not one word is mentioned about boosting foreign tourism.
“Israel already suffers from an image problem based on the events that take place every day in the Middle East,” said Gonen. “Thus, we have to advertise in a heavy manner in all media across the U.S. … I have friends in the U.S. who have come to Israel and told me after a few days of arriving here, ’Gee, we had no idea that Tel Aviv was such a cool city and the country was so beautiful.’ People have to know that we have so much to offer.”
While hoteliers hope for a stronger commitment to tourism on the part of the government, the summer tourist season nears, with many American tourists are on the verge of booking vacations in Israel. A number of quality hotels are offering a variety of deals:
Inbal Jerusalem Hotel (www.inbalhotel.com)
During the summer months, the Inbal is offering several packages:
Kids stay free in their parent’s room — when staying a minimum four consecutive nights, and free car rental for guests who book for three consecutive nights, as well as a bike tour of Jerusalem.
Special deals are confirmed upon availability and have blackout dates and conditions. During the summer vacation season, the hotel features its beautiful outdoor pool, kids club and grill bar.
Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel(www.sheratontelaviv.com)
Two new guestrooms floors called “New Executive Club Rooms” will be completed by mid-July. These rooms are the most exclusive accommodation options at the Sheraton Tel Aviv. The Club Lounge on the 18th floor has been expanded. Club guests can enjoy breakfast, all-day cold and hot hors d’oeuvres and private check-in and check-out reception desk. Link@Sheraton, located in the lobby of the hotel, is now available for hotel guests. Designed as a social destination, Link@Sheraton invites guests to interact with each other while they check their e-mails, research local attractions and even print boarding passes using free WiFi and Internet-enabled computer stations. One of the hotel’s most popular summer deals includes tickets to the Cirque du Soleil performance of “Quidam” in Tel Aviv, based on a minimum five-night package from Aug. 7-16.
Dan Hotels (www.danhotels.com)
The Dan chain has updated the hotels with upgrades in rooms and public areas highlighted by major makeovers at the Dan Panorama Jerusalem and Dan Panorama Tel Aviv. There are special summer rates at the Dan Panorama Jerusalem, Dan Jerusalem, Dan Boutique Jerusalem, Dan Tel Aviv and Dan Panorama Tel Aviv. At the Dan Panorama Tel Aviv, Dan Boutique Jerusalem and Dan Panorama Haifa, children can stay free in the parent’s room. In Tel Aviv, the free child deal is valid when reserving three nights or more. (Terms and conditions apply and vary during July and August.) The chain will be operating its annual
Danyland children’s centers at the hotels (except for the King David in Jerusalem). The theme this summer will focus on “Our Green Environment” and “Animals We Love.”
Rimonim Hotels (www.Rimonim.com)
The Rimonim chain recently took over the Palm Beach Club Hotel in Akko (Northern Israel). The hotel is nestled on the shores of the Mediterranean, just minutes from Akko’s fascinating old city. Covering over eight acres, the property includes a hotel, country club, spa and events center that includes nearly a dozen halls of varying sizes. The hotel’s 125 rooms are fully equipped for business or leisure, couples or families, independent travelers or tour groups. The hotel offers free entrance to the unique country club with indoor/outdoor pool, gym, tennis court and jacuzzi. There’s also a wet and dry sauna, Turkish hamam (bath) and treatment rooms.
Orchid Hotels (www.OrchidHotels.com)
The Orchid chain is one of the country’s fastest-growing brands, with a variety of hotels aimed at couples, business travelers and families with children. In Tel Aviv, the Park Plaza Orchid Hotel is located along the oceanfront promenade; it offers free WiFi, bicycles, a 24/7 business center and free international calls from rooms and Internet-equipped lobby. The Orchid Jerusalem View Hotel, located in pastoral Ma’ale Hachamisha (Jerusalem mountains), highlights a free gym and sauna, bicycling throughout the breathtaking scenery surrounding the facility, as well as a free shuttle bus that drops visitors off in downtown Jerusalem. There are also creative activities for the children.