Israel's Tourism Minister Plans to Target American, Chinese Evangelicals

Israel's tourism minister says he plans to focus on drawing evangelicals in the U.S. and China to the Holy Land.

Incoming tourism makes up only 2.3 percent of Israel's GDP, Uzi Landau told Israel Hayom in an interview Monday. In Europe, by comparison, six percent of the GDP is generated by such tourism, and some nations generate as much as nine percent.

"We are the cradle of Jewish and Christian civilization," he told the publication. "This is where the prophets roamed, this is where the Bible was written, this is where some of the extraordinary historical events occurred, and all we are managing to get across to the world is 2.3%? It's not enough."

To help his nation's numbers improve, he said he plans to "focus first and foremost on strengthening domestic tourism, and to invest in incoming tourism focusing on Chinese and evangelical target audiences."

Landau, who holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, formerly served as the nation's Minister of Public Security and held several other high-ranking political positions before becoming tourism minister in March. On Tuesday, he addressed an audience at The Second Jerusalem International Tourism Summit at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

During his speech, Israel Hayom reports, Landau pointed to Greece as an example of how tourism can help nations with struggling economies generate income, jobs and "most importantly, hope." In order to boost tourism in Israel, he says, more marketing is needed.

"Just look at the numbers. Investments of 240 million shekels ($65 million) in marketing budgets generated $29 billion of internal and international incoming tourism," said Landau. "Since 2009, the Tourism Ministry has increased our investment in marketing to just 50 million shekels ($13.5 million). But that investment generated around 6 billion shekels ($1.6 billion) in national income. This is math every elementary school kid can understand."

He also said Israel's decision not to rescind the value added tax exemption for incoming tourism was wise, and mentioned the Open Skies agreement passed by the government, which allows low-cost flights between Europe and Israel, as something that will help the nation attract tourists.

"These steps paved the way to advance tourism in Israel, but in order to reach the full potential we need more marketing and branding activity," Landau told the audience. "If we do not so invest, we will not feel the full effect of the Open Skies agreement."

Last year was a record-setting year for tourism in Israel, the Israel Ministry of Tourism reported in December, as 3.5 million people entered the nation as visitors in 2012. The U.S. is the single largest source country for Israel's incoming tourism, with 610,000 American visitors having entered the nation in 2012, though Russia came in a close second with 590,000 visitors.

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