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JERUSALEM-The Middle East peace process was the best thing that could have happened to Shmuel Zurel's marketing strategy for Israeli tourism. Mr. Zurel, senior deputy director general of marketing at Israel's Tourism Ministry, is running a yearlong, state-decreed campaign: Peace Tourism Year.

Every year Israel nominates a theme to lead the national agenda. The Year of the Environment and the Year of Immigrant Absorption were forgotten quickly, but Mr. Zurel's Peace Tourism campaign sparked a jump in tourism. (The campaign continues despite Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination this month.)

"The benefits of peace are far-reaching and long-term," said Mr. Zurel. "But the most immediate result is tourism, and for Israel, tourism is the No. 1 industry."

In 1994, 2.2 million tourists brought in $2.8 billion.

"We took the element from which Israeli tourism usually suffers-media overexposure-and used it to our advantage," Mr. Zurel said. "Since the peace process began, Israel is getting a lot of positive media exposure, and we've used this as an international marketing tool.

"The ministry departed from the norm of using the government advertising agency, inviting agencies to bid for the Peace Tourism Year campaign," he said.

Gitam/ BBDO won the contract, and a dove/Star of David logo for the campaign appears worldwide in all tourism promotions and ads. But most of the marketing and advertising, Mr. Zurel said, was done outside the country.

"We had to target world market niches, because Israel is such a small country and it relies on specialty markets. It's an emotional tourism because of its history, culture and its attraction to Christians and Jews."

Israeli tourism's most important markets are North America, where the ad budget was $6 million, and Western and Northern Europe, where it was $11 million.

In most countries, including neighbors Egypt and Jordan, Israel is still building marketing channels to make tour packages available, he said.

Since the start of the peace process, he added, tourism from Egypt rose 200%, and by the end of the year, 30,000 Jordanians will have visited Israel. The open borders also attract tourists on packages to visit all three countries.

North America and Western Europe are the only regions where advertising heightens an existing demand for Israeli tourism. The U.S. campaign, run by Bates USA, New York, uses the tagline "No one belongs here more than you," an emotional appeal to both Jews and Christians. In the U.K., Burkitt Weinreich Bryant, London, played on well-known Hebrew song "Hava Nagila" for the tagline "Hav'a holiday you'll always go back to."

Speaking of going back, Mr. Zurel noted that Israel has a 40% rate of return visitors and a growth rate of 10% to 15% in tourism annually, far higher than the world average of 4%.

In the first seven months of 1995, 1.7 million tourists visited, and Mr. Zurel predicts that the number will reach 2.4 million by yearend.

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