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 “THE TOURISM MINISTRY IS SPEARHEADING A PROGRAM WHOSE GOAL IS TO INCREASE INCOMING TOURISM TO THE DEAD SEA AREA FROM 25% TO AT LEAST 50%” – THIS ACCORDING TO TOURISM MINISTRY SENIOR DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL, INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT AND INVESTMENTS ERAN NITZAN. “75% of all tourists at the Dead Sea currently are Israelis, with only 25% coming from overseas.

The Tourism Ministry is spearheading a program that is intended to raise the percentage of tourists vacationing at the Dead Sea to 50%”. This, according to Tourism Ministry Senior Deputy Director-General, Infrastructure Development and Investments Eran Nitzan during a panel today (Monday) on the future of tourism at the Dead Sea that took place within the framework of the Herzliya Conference on Tourism.  The panel took place in advance of the implementation of the government plan to rehabilitate the area at the Dead Sea between Hamei Zohar and Ein Bokek.

 Also participating in the panel were Nick Van Marken, representing Deloitte LLP who were selected to prepare the program for developing the area, head of the Israel Travel Agents Association Yossi Fattal, Head of the Tamar Regional Council Dov Litvinoff and CEO, Isrotel Hotels Lior Raviv.

 Nick Van Marken noted that the trend worldwide and in the Middle East today is for unique and diverse sites where design is a central factor. “People take shorter vacations, they have more demanding needs and higher expectations from their holiday. The facilities themselves are more design-oriented, with more thought invested in them. The experience is the key element.”

 Van Marken added that there had been a significant and positive change in tourism in the Middle East in the last twenty years. “The desert has much to offer and we can see this by the success of hotels in the area.  Many of them have won international prizes. Planning a desert resort is very different to building a city hotel and much more complex.”

 According to CEO, Isrotel Hotels Lior Raviv, the vacation experience at the Dead Sea takes place only within the hotel itself. “There is no overall experience, but there is great potential for eco-tourism, but not just this. We must create an experience at the Dead Sea such as that which can be found in other desert resorts – with attractions and activities outside the hotels.”

 Raviv added that “health tourism has declined in recent years, especially from Germany and therefore we must expand the numbers of incoming tourists to the Dead Sea area and extend the length of their stay. Tourists will only leave the hotel of they have activities. I do not think a water park is the answer, for example, but a shopping mall is. There is no shopping experience at the Dead Sea and tourists love to shop while on vacation. A proper convention center could also attract employment to the area and help give it the required momentum.”

 According to the head of the Tamar Regional Council Dov Litvinoff, the tourism concept at the Dead Sea should be based on the principle of “a break without a city. The hotels at the Dead Sea are not unique to the area, we now have the opportunity to repair that injustice with the construction of the new area – to integrate the building into the natural environment. Litvinoff added that “It is the hoteliers’ fault that the tourists stay within the hotels – they do not want the tourists to leave the hotel complex. It is not true to say there is nothing to do in the area, there is a wide range of cycling options, an ecological park, festivals and more.” Referring to the bureaucracy related to building hotels in the area, Litvinoff added that “we will open green channels for investment and development in the area.”

According to the head of the Israel Travel Agents Association Yossi Fattal, the last thing you expect to see at the Dead Sea is a hotel that looks as if it is in Tel Aviv. However, Fattal said, “at the moment, there is no desert experience on offer. In Eilat, they made a mistake by building hotels and not resorts. Now we have the opportunity with the Dead Sea to do it differently. Innovativeness should be the guiding principle. We must create a ‘wow’ that does not exist anywhere else in the Middle East.”

According to Fattal, the attempt to create a separate branding for the Dead Sea as a vacation area is not correct. “The Dead Sea must be part of the overall Israel experience. There is no single, consistent tourism language for Israel and this is a mistake. Creating separate branding, as we have done with Eilat, is not suitable today.”

In February 2012, the government decided to accept the recommendations of the Tourism Minister and theMinister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan concerning the rehabilitation of the Dead Sea area at a cost of NIS 850 million in the next 5 years. In August 2012, the British company Deloitte was chosen to prepare the program for developing the area. The program details the hotels, tourism attractions and businesses that will be in the complex, for example: to date, it has been decided to build thousands of new hotel rooms in the area. The program details the types of tourism infrastructure required for the area. In accordance with the program, architect Moshe Safdie will develop the architectural plans for the area while taking into consideration the local and regional characteristics. In September 2012, agreements between the government and the Dead Sea Works were signed in line with the government decision from January 2012 determining that the salt harvesting will be primarily subsidized by the Dead Sea Works. As a result, it was decided to include the Dead Sea in the regional priority map for tourism.