Israel focused its marketing on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and that made all the difference
Ellen Melman, Director of Operations & Marketing, Travel Industry, Clergy & Community Liaison for IMOT – Canada; Amir Halevi, IMOT’s Director General; Jerry Adler, Director for Canada, IMOT; Eyal Carlin, Director, Marketing Administration, IMOT; and Yael Cojokaro, Adviser to the Director General, IMOT

Israel focused its marketing on Jerusalem & Tel Aviv and that made all the difference

TORONTO — The Israel Ministry of Tourism’s decision to aim its marketing campaigns less on Israel and the Holy Land experience, and more on city getaways to beautiful Jerusalem and cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, has met with quick success and record-breaking visitor numbers.

Part of a rebranding strategy that started just a few years ago, and buoyed by a years-long stretch of stability in the country, IMOT’s move to marketing collateral highlighting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – along with an emphasis on a wide range of niche product across the country, from eco-tourism to sports and adventure to culinary – has seen visitor figures soar, say Amir Halevi, IMOT’s Director General and Eyal Carlin, Director, Marketing Administration.

Halevi and Carlin were in Canada this week to talk to the trade and consumer media as well as meet with airlines, tour operators and other industry partners.

Tourism numbers to Israel finally topped three million in 2017, coming in well over that mark with 3.6 million tourists, an increase of 25%, said Carlin. IMOT differentiates between tourist stats and overall visitor stats.

By mid-December this year Israel expects to welcome its 4 millionth tourist. “And what we’re hearing from airlines and other suppliers is that 2019 looks phenomenal,” said Carlin.

The numbers are up from Canada too. In 2017 some 85,000 Canadians headed to Israel. For 2018, the final number will be somewhere around 90,000, with 65,800 year to date already by September 2018.

Israel has seen 10% growth month to month from the Canadian market this year, adds Ellen Melman, Director of Operations & Marketing, Travel Industry, Clergy & Community Liaison for IMOT – Canada. “Each month from January through September 2018 has been the best month in 20 years,” she says.

Jerry Adler, who heads up the IMOT – Canada office, says the strong numbers have spurred other travel companies to see that Israel is a safe place to sell.

“Our job has become a little bit easier,” says Adler, adding: “We want to make people aware not just about Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but also about eco, adventure, great culinary offerings for foodies, so that they visit and they share that and come back with the bragging rights.”

As always travel agents are a major part of IMOT’s strategy to get the word out about Israel. “Travel agents are still very important to us,” says Carlin. “Israel can still be a complicated destination for some travellers. Not because of the safety issue, but more because it’s a destination with a non-European language. A lot of travellers going to Israel rely on travel agents. That makes Israel a revenue generator for travel agents. A lot of the travellers return to Israel as well. We value the relationship we have with the travel trade very much.”

Israel has solid lift out of Canada, with flights via Air Canada, Transat and El Al, which is introducing Dreamliner service to the Toronto route. Flights out of Western Canada with WestJet are on IMOT’s wish list. Israel’s incentive program for airlines has brought more lift to underserved destinations like Eilat, which has gone from 4 to 60 direct flights in short order. Eilat’s also getting a new airport: Ramon Airport, located just outside the city, is expected to open in early 2019.

More lift, more visitors – the tourism scene in Israel is booming and while there are many upsides, higher visitor figures also bring the potential for capacity crunches at Israel’s hotels. The situation’s not bad enough yet that clients need to be warned to book far in advance to ensure availability, but hotel space is getting tighter and IMOT is working to make sure it gets easier to build new hotels in Israel, with an eye to doubling the country’s room stock. For now Airbnb listings are filling the gap, says Carlin, with 5,000 listings in Tel Aviv and 2,000 in Jerusalem.

Israel is also looking to boost its MICE market. It’s something IMOT always wanted but with the five to six year planning horizon it was a tough sell. Now with its newfound stability, Israel is getting more MICE bookings and adding new venues and updating infrastructure for its convention centres.

For suppliers, IMOT has also transitioned to a performance-based agreement based on how many passengers the supplier brings to Israel. To get the word out about Israel IMOT also has a new marketing budget worth some Cdn$178 million.

IMOT’s rebranding of Israel has been a boon to the destination and the numbers just keep going up. “It was the right time to make a change,” says Director General Halevi.

Adds Carlin, “we used to be known as the Holy Land. Now we want to be known as the Holy Land and much more. Israel is where you go to pray, and play.”