There were record numbers of visitors to Israel in 2011 yet Israel’s tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov, has an audacious plan to increase visitors by another 40 per cent, by making it cheaper to visit.
Speaking at the World Travel Market in London last week, he admitted that holidaying in Israel was pricey “not because people in the industry are greedy but because of excessive government regulation imposed on tourism companies, such as security, kosher food, and a high tax burden.”
Yet, despite the global economic downturn and an ever-changing geo-political landscape including the Arab spring, never-ending boycotts and a general negative image of Israel around the world, the country’s visitor figures reached a record high of 3.7 million last year.
The minister’s focus now is to lure sun lovers from destinations such as Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt and Aqaba in Jordan.
He said: “We need an extra 19,000 hotel rooms to increase competition and reduce room rates. In 2011, we authorised grants of NIS 204 million to build additional hotel rooms. This year we are authorising a similar amount.” In line with this, a new Kempinski hotel will open in Tel Aviv, and a Waldorf in Jerusalem.
A new, European-style, star rating system for hotels will be launched soon, making Israel’s hotel industry more transparent. Mr Misezhnikov insisted: “There will be no more paying five-star prices for three-star hotels”.
The minister, a member of the right-of-centre Yisrael Beitenu party, was also optimistic about a new Open Sky agreement with the EU. “If successful, this will bring more competition, more flights, and a reduction in fares.”
As for the possibility of his not remaining in office after Israel’s upcoming elections, Mr Misezhnikov assured his audience that “the plans in place for bringing down the costs to the hotel industry will definitely be rolled out. As for Open Sky, we will have to see, but there has been an evolution in thinking across the board.”