Israel tourism officials hope to sustain millennium-year bounce

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NEW YORK -- Refinements to Israel's marketing campaign will build on this year's success and will be capped by the offer to agents of a free video of Pope John Paul II's March visit, according to the country's tourism ministry officials here.

According to Arie Sommer, the ministry's consul and commissioner for tourism here, part of this year's surge in travel to Israel is due to the successful 10-day visit of the pope and the celebration of the millennium.

Statistics support reports of a boom, with hotel rooms reporting a 21% increase in occupancy for the first quarter of the year compared with the same period last year.

Sommer said arrival figures for the first few months of 2000 were 33% higher than they were a year earlier, and May arrivals, the last month for which figures are available, were up 43%.

Numbers for the summer were reported to be strong, too, and that was supported by Isram World of Travel's president Eileen Lowe Hart, who said her firm, which is based here and specializes in travel to Israel, is feeling the surge.

According to official figures, tourism to Israel in 1999 broke the previous record of 2.5 million visitors achieved in 1995.

In 1999, Israel launched a marketing campaign that called the Holy Land the "Destination of the Millennium" due to events that occurred there 2,000 years ago.

Israel's tourism officials are estimating a new record total of 3 million visitors in 2000.

Sommer said 260,000 are expected to come from the U.S. this year, and the goal is to increase that to 1 million in the next two to three years.

According to Sommer, more effort will be put into the various Christian markets and the Jewish family celebrations of religious events.

In addition, he said, efforts will be made "to attract the nearly 12 million U.S. travelers who go abroad for an extended vacation."

"In addition to history and archaeology, we will present [the country's advances in] culture, hotels, restaurants and infrastructure," according to Sommer.

The updated marketing campaign will be launched after the summer.

To help market the destination, the ministry of tourism will run co-op ads to which tour operators can add their information.

The video of the pope's millennium visit provides subtitles to the pope's comments as he made them in heavily accented English during Roman Catholic services at Christian sites in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth and at the Mount of the Beatitudes in the Galilee, as well as during visits to Jewish sites at the Western Wall and Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Israel Ministry of Tourism InfoCenter
Phone: (888) 77-ISRAEL
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: www.goisrael.com

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