Haim Katz, the newly elected Minister of Tourism gave yesterday his first speech as Minister. He spoke about his enthusiasm to boost inbound and domestic tourism. In pre-Covid days 4.5 Million tourists visited Israel, compared to 2 Million in 2022. He mentioned that "the ministry plays a major role in strengthening the economy and promoting the beautiful face of Israel. Our goal is to reach new records." I could not agree more.
The big question is whether the only criteria of success is in quantity, the number of tourists. Before Covid came around, many of us got worried about the potential negative impact of over-tourism. Much of the revenue remained in the hands of big global players like international hotel chains or big cruise lines, while leaving little to the local communities. Mass tourism had often a destructive impact on the environment and living conditions of the local population.
During the first months of Covid-19, we changed the name of our company to "Terranova Destination Marketing" putting the focus on Mother Earth while promoting tourism and destinations. This does not mean that we wish less tourism – on the contrary. But yes, we need to redefine what tourism is all about, for visitors and hosting communities alike. For example, low-season tourism or off-the-beaten-track tourism or wellness-tourism can have a great positive impact for all stake holders, including the tourists themselves. As the representative of the Tourism Authority of Thailand we have learned how the leaders of the Thai travel industry have adapted this new agenda and changed course accordingly.
Mr. Katz also mentioned at the ministerial handover ceremony that the employees of the Ministry deserve better conditions, including a raise in salary. No wonder that the participating employees of the Ministry gave him a warm applause on this remark. He then mentioned that in return he wishes the results of their hard work to be translated in clear receivables and weekly reports. At this point, the employees did not express their approval. I find this funny: as the marketing and PR representative of so many global tourism boards, it has become our second nature to report and analyze on a weekly basis. Public funding of promotion is only justified when the Return On Investment can be proven in hard figures. That's true for us – as to the employees of the Head Office of any Tourism Board.
Last but not least: the Minister mentioned that he intends to "invest in our local Tuscany in Judea and Samaria." The geographical term is another term for the West Bank, the area controlled by Israeli since 1967. In a democracy like ours, the Minister and me may have different political opinions on how to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. As related to tourism – I would have preferred the Minister to put the focus on tourism as an engine of peace. I would welcome tourists to come and be impressed by the hospitality of all inhabitants, embrace all cultures, religions and beliefs. And I would be delighted if the Israeli Ministry of Tourism would support all potential suppliers and story tellers, Jews and Arabs alike.
Dov Kalmann, Terranova founder and president