Israel to close several tour offices

NEW YORK -- The Israel Government Tourist Office -- approaching nearly three years of nonstop crisis in the homeland and a near-total collapse of the tourism market -- is in the process of shutting down two and maybe three of its offices in North America.

By the end of July, only two offices will remain open for certain, in New York and Toronto. Chicago and Dallas will close, but a final decision has not been made about Los Angeles.

To pick up the slack, the tourist office plans to recruit volunteers to represent Israel at trade shows and at meetings with churches and synagogues, according to Hiam Gutin-Golan, the Ministry of Tourism's consul for tourism Northeast in New York.

The volunteers have not yet been identified and trained, but he said, "If I get a hundred good ones, I'll be happy."

Meanwhile, the news from the Middle East gives cause for some hope these days, as tour operators report business has started to pick up.

And in November, for the first time in three years, Israel will sponsor a nationwide road show of seminars for pastors, rabbis and travel agents.

The tourist office was looking ahead last year and early this year when it took about 60 agents and tour operators from the U.S. and Europe to Israel.

While noting that "we had taken the Jewish market for granted," he said the office has taken steps to renew connections with Jewish groups.

In one of its more recent projects, the tourist office distributed pledge cards in synagogues, seeking promises to visit Israel by a stated date. With those cards, Gutin-Golan said, the office is gathering a good database of prospects.

Israel will advertise in July in Christian and Jewish newspapers, and to a modest extent on Jewish-themed radio programs, using the theme, "Don't Put Your Soul on Hold." The campaign will have another short run in time for the Jewish holidays in September.

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