Campaign aims to put Holy Land in positive light

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NEW YORK -- To counter the negative perceptions of North American consumers monitoring the troubles in Israel in the mainstream media, the Israel Ministry of Tourism launched an ad campaign that highlights the "Israel you don't see on the nightly news."

"We felt that injustices were done to Israel and to tourism," said Arie Sommer, consul and commissioner for tourism for North America.

"The media are concentrating on the events almost round the clock, and the reality is that in Israel, it's different from what you see on television. In Israel proper, where tourists visit, it's calm."

The campaign uses radio, magazine and newspaper advertisements in two major markets -- Jewish and Christian media -- as well as trade publications, including Travel Weekly.

Sommer, who has been in the ministry's New York offices for nearly five years, said the Jewish and Christian communities were targeted because they were the most likely "to respond positively to our messages."

Specifically, visual spots include photographs of tourists at top Israeli sites, such as Masada.

Advertisements include the date that the photograph was taken, so that readers can see for themselves that tourists are visiting the country in safety.

For radio ads, the ministry used testimonials from tourists.

The ministry is using the same campaign in Canada, but advertisements in Europe have a different message.

Visitors to the ministry's North American Web site, www.goisrael.com, can view a similar feature.

The section has information on what the U.S. State Department advisories mean and where the major troubles are happening.

The ministry expects the ads to run for at least another couple of months.

"I think the ad campaign is a good one," said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya'lla Tours USA, in Portland, Ore.

"The normal life in Israel is not what you watch on television."

Paldi said his firm recently distributed a letter to travel agents who do group business with Ya'lla.

Many agents have had "very legitimate" concerns, said Paldi, but the reality was not what was being shown on television.

While the campaign may clarify the situation for many customers, the fact is that tourists are staying away from Israel.

Thus far in 2001, Sommer said, Israel has seen a 40% to 50% decrease in the number of visitors.

When the troubles subside, however, Sommer is confident travelers will return in droves.

"There has never been a dull moment in this region for the last 3,000 years," said Sommer.

"There are ups and downs in tourism, and we are used to it. The moment such a crisis is over, we see a dramatic increase in the number of tourists. People don't see themselves as canceling tours but postponing tours."

Paldi said Ya'lla has booked many groups for November, which is a high season for Christian travelers.

Sommer also encouraged agents to contact the ministry for the latest information about Israel.

"We can assure agents that their customers are going to be safe in Israel and will enjoy every minute of it," said Sommer. "If tourists were not safe in Israel, we would have asked tourists not to come."

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