CAMPAIGNS: Tourism PR - Israel rescues its tourism industry

Client: Israel Ministry of Tourism (New York, NY)

Client: Israel Ministry of Tourism (New York, NY)

Client: Israel Ministry of Tourism (New York, NY)

PR Team: Geoffrey Weill Associates (New York, NY)

Campaign: Crisis campaign for Israeli tourism

Time Frame: Late September 2000 and ongoing

Budget: About dollars 50,000 (includes dollars 15,000 for SMT but not agency fee)

Last year looked to be a great - even record - year for Israeli tourist officials until late September, when clashes between Israelis and Palestinians broke out again. Three hundred and sixty people have been killed and 10,000 injured thus far.

The conflict has had a devastating effect on Israel's tourism industry.

It didn't help when the US warned its citizens against traveling to the country in late October. In November, total tourism was down 58%.

The Israel Ministry of Tourism and its longtime New York-based agency, Geoffrey Weill Associates, had to turn the situation around.


A typical response of tourism officials is to pretend strife isn't happening.

The Israeli ministry decided it would be foolish to do so in this case, especially because the conflict was featured each night on the news.

The Israelis decided to emphasize that the conflict was occurring in the Palestinian-administered West Bank and Gaza Strip, not in Israel.

'We realized we couldn't speak only about the country and the beautiful sites,' says Arie Sommer, Israel commissioner for tourism, North America.

'We had to address the situation - to say to our potential visitors, 'Yes, there are some difficulties, but they are taking place in areas that tourists don't usually visit. Israel is safe.''


First, the ministry added a section to its Web site ( entitled 'What today's headlines mean to tourists to Israel' to soothe people's concerns about traveling to Israel. 'The Web site tells them for real what the situation is,' says Sommer.

Sommer and agency president Geoffrey Weill learned that Israel's tourism minister, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who is involved in the peace negotiations, would be in New York for one day, on November 10 and set up a satellite media tour.

'The point he made was, 'If we thought people would be in danger, we wouldn't want you to come,'' says Weill. 'Talk about a PR disaster - what could be worse (than tourists getting killed)?'

Since the conflict began, Weill's agency has taken about 40 journalists to Israel, with another 20 scheduled to visit in January. The number isn't much higher than usual (about 150 a year), but the agency has tapped fewer travel journalists and more specialty writers, such as those covering food, culture and even sports (the Dead Sea Marathon is in February). The press list also focused on travel-writing neophytes from mainstream Jewish publications.


Despite the fourth-quarter slowdown, Israel had its best tourism year last year, with 2.7 million visitors - 500,000 from the US.

The Web site has had about 20,000 visitors since it launched in mid-October.

Weill says Medialink, which handled the SMT, expected only six or seven stations to participate - it was the first week of the US presidential contretemps - but Lipkin-Shahak ended up doing 12 live interviews with stations around the country, as well as with the BBC.

Eleven publications, with a total readership of 2.9 million, ran articles on Israeli tourism, stemming from a December junket; they included the San Diego Jewish Times, the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, The Jewish Week and the Jewish Press.

But James Ruggia, an editor at Travel Agent magazine in New York, who went on the December trip, doesn't quite agree with Sommer that 'the country is not empty.'

'The last time I went to Jerusalem (just before the conflict broke out), it was like being in a shopping mall at Christmas,' Ruggia comments.

'Now you can walk in Jerusalem and have it to yourself.' That isn't necessarily a bad thing, he adds.


The tourism ministry is launching a dollars 700,000 print campaign this month based on testimonials from visitors in Israel.

Their comments and photos will appear in newspapers within days of being taken.

The tagline is: 'The Israel you don't see on the nightly news.'

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