As the partner of one of Israel’s largest law firms, Isaac
Herzog learned a thing or two about “crisis management.” Now, in
his role as Israel’s minister of tourism, he’s no doubt bringing
those skills to bear. Tourism is off some 30 to 40 percent in the
wake of the Israel-Lebanon war this past summer. Herzog is
determined to turn those numbers around, and if pedigree has
anything to do with it, he’s just the man for the job.
Herzog’s father, Chaim, was the sixth president of Israel and also
served as the country’s ambassador to the United Nations. His
grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, was the country’s first
chief rabbi. Herzog himself served as government secretary under
Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and also as housing minister in Ariel
It’s understandable, then, that Herzog was one of the more popular
luminaries in attendance at the General Assembly of the United
Jewish Communities (UJC) that took place in Los Angeles in
mid-November. Herzog used the event to outreach to prominent Jewish
leaders, enlisting their support to help jump-start tourism. He
later signed an agreement with California governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger establishing the California-Israel Tourism
Herzog also took time out to meet with TravelAge West in an
exclusive interview in which he made an eloquent case for visiting
A few moments with Herzog, and Israel practically sold itself.
“It’s such a unique product,” said Herzog. “It’s the cradle of the
three major monotheistic religions and so much more.”
The “more” includes six different ecosystems, first-rate hotels,
award-winning cuisine and attractions that appeal to an array of
“We have excellent opportunities for bird-watching. Health and
wellness travel is on the rise, especially in the area of the Dead
Sea. Music lovers come to Israel to hear the most famous conductors
in the world hold concerts in unique settings, such as Roman ruins.
And of course, archaeological travel is also big,” said Herzog.
The cruise industry is also playing a role in bringing tourists to
Israel. Silversea, for example, will be calling there in 2007.
As for tourist infrastructure, Herzog says there is great interest
in bringing new luxury hotels to Israel, especially in
Another new trend: “Home Stays,” Israel’s own version of the bed
and breakfast, in which tourists stay in private homes.
The mainstay of Israeli tourism continues to be religious travel,
“We have Jewish travel. And there is also a huge movement that
we’ve seen with the Evangelical Christian tourists. So much so,
that we’ve appointed a special emissary to the Evangelical
community,” he said.
Herzog is also trying to attract a third category of tourist: the
sophisticated traveler. In other words, one who appreciates
everything Israel has to offer and isn’t deterred by the jitters
that may be keeping others away.
A new advertising campaign will feature the slogan, “Israel Who
Knew?” The ads are designed to raise awareness about Israel’s
Noted Herzog: “Our main goal is to make it clear that things are
calmer and quieter. Israel is safe, and we’re getting tourism back
on track, especially for the upcoming Christmas season.”
But, Herzog is aiming for a loftier goal.
“We want to double the number of Americans coming to Israel by the
year 2009,” he says, with determination.
By the looks of things, he’s well on his way.