TORONTO — Coming off its third year in a row of strong growth, Israel is making inroads into developing markets as well as established markets, and that includes Canada.
And while Eyal Carlin, Tourism Commissioner for North America for the Israel Ministry of Tourism, says the organization’s budget is right now constrained as the country waits for the outcome of Israel’s March 2 election, “after the election it will go back to normal” with up to $350,000 earmarked for the Canadian market.
The announcement of a new tour operator partnership here in Canada is expected in a matter of weeks.
“Israel is being embraced by all the big players in the travel industry,” said Carlin yesterday at a travel trade media roundtable event at the Israel Ministry of Tourism’s offices in Toronto.
Along with Gal Hana, based in Toronto as Consul, Director of Tourism, and Jerry Adler, Deputy Director for Canada, Carlin outlined plans for the Canadian market ahead of a reception for suppliers and retailers.
Israel capped off 2019 with a record-breaking 4.551 million visitors, up 10.6% from 2018.
Occupancy levels at Israel hotels are “through the roof”, said Carlin, and new properties include the 104-room Ibis Styles in Jerusalem. Boutique hotels are popping up in every corner of the country. Jerusalem’s Old City, the most visited site in Israel, is now accessible. The Ministry of Tourism notes that making this beloved part of Jerusalem accessible to the mobility impaired was a priority and the work that was done is within UNESCO’s guidelines.
Meanwhile Israel’s long-term plan to diversify into new markets, adding to its strength in the faith-based markets, is paying off. As a destination Israel “has become an A-lister”, says Adler. “It’s not just a bucket list destination anymore.” Israel is looking at the MICE market, adventure travel and culinary travel, to name a few.
In the Canadian market Israel is looking both East, to Quebec, and West to B.C., Alberta and the Prairies for future growth, with a road show in development for the West for the second half of 2020.
Israel’s relationship with Transat “basically opened the door for us into the Quebec market,”says Adler. Two years ago, in January 2017, Transat made headlines when it announced Israel as its first-ever destination in the Middle East, with guided tours and packages in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and more.
The program didn’t last but it did build more awareness and appreciation for the destination especially in Quebec. And “Transat knows we would welcome them back with open arms,” says Adler.
Carlin, Adler and Hana say they expect to announce another major supplier partnership in the coming weeks.
Carlin’s appointment as Tourism Commissioner for North America is key to further developing the Canadian market, adds Hana. “Knowing that Canada is a different market from the U.S., this is what makes us optimistic for 2020.”
Says Carlin: “We have a strong team here in Canada, with Gal, Jerry and Ellen [Melman], with good knowledge of how to make things happen. We’re definitely going to be continuing our strong push into the Canadian market.”
So often with Israel it’s two steps forward, one step back, to the frustration of all involved with the country’s tourism industry. The world is now waiting to see the reaction to the latest peace plan initiative, announced yesterday by U.S. President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While in the past uprisings and other headline events would send tourism numbers plummeting, these days intrepid travellers tend to continue travelling. Speaking of the highly trained emergency response measures in the country, “the whole system is geared to making sure life goes on,” says Carlin.
Over the past decade or so Israel’s tourism messaging has focused on its big cities, chiefly Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and showcased Israel as a multifaceted tourism product. “We have great wine, great hotels and the most important religious sites in the world,” says Carlin. “The product in Israel has become very diverse.”
Adler says that travel agents in Canada “see the lucrative side of selling packages to Israel, not just bums in seats.”
In the travel trade section of its website, at israel.travel, agents will soon find a specialist program. “A lot of what we produce [in terms of marketing collateral] is designed for travel agents to pass on to their clients. We want to make sure agents use it as a resource,” said Carlin.
Lift is good with Air Canada and El Al, he says, adding that more lift is always welcome. Israel was in talks with WestJet about a year ago and “we’ll see where that goes.”