When it comes to destination selection, Israel’s ability to stay on top of security concerns has been the main barometer for success. According to Uri Steinberg, Israel Tourism Commissioner to North America for the Government of Israel, although Israel receives its fair share of negative media coverage, which impacts safety perceptions among travelers, people still very much have a desire to visit the country.
Digital media channels have proven to have both positive and negative effects when it comes to the country’s tourism industry. Ten years ago, Steinberg says that perceptions of the country were shaped by a limited number of media sources, and any negative information that was reported by a news outlet like CNN automatically translated into trip cancellations. Today, however, travelers are inundated with so much information that they can choose what they want to consume, and they do so in their desired format.
“All of the information available today and people’s ability to focus on what they want sometimes work for our benefit because a lot of the things that get reported don’t always necessarily make it to consumers at the end of the day,” he says. “The downside is that you can’t really hide anything. Today, when we have incidents of violence, they are typically recorded and posted online, which makes them go viral more easily and can have a very negative impact.”
Steinberg says that numerous unfortunate incidents of violence in the Middle East have nearly destroyed tourism to Israel, particularly between 2001 and 2004. The country saw mass cancellations due to people’s fear of coming to the country. As time passes, however, he says the country is beginning to recover from these incidents more quickly.
“Almost every year or year and a half, we have some sort of occurrence that deters people from traveling to Israel, but I have noticed that we are bouncing back from them more quickly,” Steinberg says. “As more places throughout the world are becoming increasingly unsafe, it is becoming more of a global issue, so it takes less time for tourists to regain their confidence.”
Particularly for areas like the Dead Sea and Galilee, the economic effects of safety and security concerns are felt most by destination employees, who often already struggle to make ends meet and don’t always have access to many other opportunities when tourism slows down.
In order to recover from negative incidents in the country, Steinberg says they have begun to focus primarily on reaching audiences that they know are more resilient and interested in traveling to Israel than others, such as the faith-based community in the U.S.
“The budget that we have to work with is limited, so we focus our energy on the U.S. because it is significant in terms of numbers, influence and their ability to go to Israel,” he says. “We feel Israel has an edge with these travelers, so we find that we are more effective in focusing on them rather than scattering our efforts across the board.”