Israel Tries Rebound

Making the case for a multifaceted country

By: Ana Figueroa

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 Sharon’s government.

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 Commission.

Herzog also took time out to meet with TravelAge West in an exclusive interview in which he made an eloquent case for visiting Israel.

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 niche groups.

“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 Jerusalem.

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, noted Herzog.

“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 multi-faceted appeal.

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.