The Israel Ministry of Tourism’s (IMOT’s) Canada office held a media briefing on Tuesday (Oct. 31) to address the ongoing conflict in Israel and share its plans for the “day after” when tourism in the country in the Middle East resumes.
The virtual meeting – positioned as a check in, as opposed to a geopolitical conversation – was led by the IMOT’s Fiona Kosmin, director of marketing and partnerships for Canada and Jerry Adler, deputy director for Canada and director of PR and communications.
“War is not easy,” Adler said off the bat, saying that he wished he had a crystal ball to say exactly when the crisis would be over.
The devastating humanitarian situation in Israel began on Oct. 7 following an attack by Hamas militants in the country’s southern and central regions.
Israel’s government declared a state of emergency after rockets were launched from Gaza on cities, reaching as far as Jerusalem, while Hamas, which are listed as terrorist entities by Public Safety Canada, invaded communities by land, sea and air.
The incident led to several airlines – including Air Canada – suspending or cancelling flights to Israel, leaving tourists to their own devices. Canada eventually sent evacuation flights for Canadians that were stranded in the destination.
Meanwhile, tour operators and cruise lines have pulled out of the destination temporarily.
As the conflict approaches its one-month mark, Israel is now pressing deeper into Gaza with tanks and soldiers as its ground offensive expands in the Palestinian enclave, reports say.
The Israeli military said Tuesday that it was “striking in all parts of the Gaza Strip,” particularly on the north.
A waiting game
For the IMOT, which is in the process of recalibrating its budgets and resources, the situation remains a fluid one.
“The biggest message here is that the beautiful destination of Israel is being clouded by the news,” Kosmin said. “[With] what's happening, we can't ignore it...it's a waiting game, it's fluid. It changes every day.”
Still, "Israel is a destination that's beautiful, that will remain beautiful,” Kosmin said, optimistically.
“Unfortunately, the news is showing this small portion of it, and we're not really capturing any of it,” she said. “They say bad press is better than no press, but I don’t know about this situation.”
Kosmin emphasized Israel’s position in the holiday market. "We will regain interest as a destination,” she said.
Preparing for “the day after”
The focus now, the team said, is preparing for when “the day after” begins (meaning, when the conflict ends).
The IMOT’s strategy will be to lean on media partners to promote future travel to Israel, and collaborate with partners on new ways of doing business.
“It’s a new beginning,” Kosmin said. “Change is always exciting because it comes with new partners, inspiration, and ideas. And we're welcome to it.”
The marketing director added that she would “love to hear from anyone who is aspiring to what this could look like in the future.”
“It doesn't have to be today. It could be around Christmas, or when there’s down time. Think of us, because we're going to be actively out there working with partners to build Israel and the destination," she said.
Adler noted that in his twenty years of working for the IMOT, he was witnessed and experienced a “multitude of episodes in modern Israel.”
The “floodgates reopen,” and tourism rebounds, whenever conflict in Israel concludes, Adler said.
“We know that and the veteran company and agencies that are joining us today are aware of that also,” he said.
To help keep the spirit of Israel alive, Kosmin urged travel partners to remember Israel’s “3,000 years of history,” and utilize the IMOT’s marketing tools, such as these five-minute videos posted on the organization’s YouTube channel that cover Israel’s historic and spiritual wonders.
Looking ahead, the IMOT says it will host FAM trips for both media and travel advisors, when it’s appropriate to do so, to “open doors and see the sense of normalcy,” Adler said.
Kosmin added that the team is already talking about bringing partners to Israel “to get that confidence back.”
“[Israel] will still offer great food. It still has 70 different cultures as a destination,” she said.
Israel’s post-COVID arrival numbers, prior to the war, were trending strong. In 2019, arrivals from Canada sat at roughly 100,000 and, as PAX reported in March, Canadian traffic was trending just below that mark – five per cent from 2019’s figures.
This, despite there being fewer direct routes between Canada and Israel compared to pre-pandemic times.
As the conflict in Israel remains active, Kosmin didn’t have any statistics on whether tourists were still in the destination, but she was certain that there are currently no groups there.
“The tour operators were very active in bringing people home safely, and the airlines [were as well],” she said, referencing the industry’s response in those initial days of the attack.
While major North American airlines have suspended service to Israel, Ben Gurion International Airport is not closed, and Tel Aviv-based Israir Airlines is currently operating, Kosmin noted.
Kosmin’s message to Canadian travel advisors was to reach out as the IMOT “wants to work with you.”
“If you're interested in building your business, please reach out. We will have plans in place for the day after. We're working diligently on preparing this now, and making things easier to work with us.”
“We’re here to support the travel trade, and for those who want to support Israel, we definitely want to work with you.”
Gal Hanna, consul for tourism and director for Canada at the IMOT, was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting due to technical difficulties, but later released a video statement here.