tourism - Tali Meir
Tourists on a Tel Aviv beach. Photo by Tali Meir
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The 23 directors general of all the government ministries will convene this week for two days at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem to present their plans for 2012.

Each will present their ministries' objectives, expectations, budgets and schedules. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will close the convention with a speech on Tuesday night.

This is the sixth year the government ministries are presenting their work plans in a closed convention. But it is only the second year the government is making the work plans available to the general public prior to the convention.

"The present government is well aware of the need to increase governability and the operative significance of doing so," Harel Locker, the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, wrote in the introduction to a thick book that outlines the ministries' plans for the coming year. "The publication of the book of work plans is an example of strengthening the issue of governability from its foundations, and indicates planning work by the staff in all the ministries. Slowly but surely we are seeing a government that thinks about results, about the way it would like to change the situation, and all in a clear world of goals, objectives and defined tasks."

In addition to discussions about the ministries' work plans, the convention will also feature panels and lectures on a series of topics, such as engines of growth and competition in the economy, the housing market, the minority sector, green growth, results-based management in the business sector and barriers to the government's work.

Government work plans will be posted in the coming days on a special website (plans.gov.il ) in order to increase access to government planning.

Tourism revenues to hit NIS 37 billion

Among the objectives set by the government are the Tourism Ministry's goal to bring 4 million tourists to Israel in 2012, an effort to continue the current trend of increasing tourism in Israel. In 2011 Israel hosted 3.4 million tourists, and by 2015 the ministry is aspiring to increase the number of tourists to 5 million.

According to Tourism Ministry assessments, a planned 16 percent increase in the number of tourists in 2012 would result in approximately NIS 2.2 billion in extra revenue for the tourism industry, for an annual total of NIS 37.2 billion. In addition, the ministry estimates that such an increase would add 20,000 new employees to the workforce.

As part of the preparations for the additional influx of tourists - who are expected to stay a total of 17 million nights in 2012 - the ministry will focus on increasing the inventory of hotel rooms in Israel. By the end of the year, approval is expected for the construction of 1,700 new hotel rooms, based on the Law for the Encouragement of Capital Investment, which deals with the construction, expansion and restoration of hotel rooms. In addition, the renovation of 1,300 rooms is expected to be approved, with the support of the Tourism Ministry, as part of the capital investments law.

In the introduction to this year's work plan, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov wrote: "The ministry will continue to act in the field of marketing, with a greater emphasis on new and developing markets, with focused activity among various communities and with tourism niches, and with an emphasis on bringing high-quality tourism."

"At the same time," Misezhnikov wrote, "the ministry will act to vary the tourism experience, to upgrade the Israeli product, to renovate and expand the public tourism infrastructure, to improve service and information and to expand the use of advanced technology."

The ministry's's market development efforts include a plan to recruit 40 new salespeople, including in the area of air traffic, and to sign 20 "security net" agreements intended to encourage foreign airlines to operate charter flights to Israel rather than to other vacation destinations with similar attractions.

Also among the ministry's objectives are attempts at standardization and regulation, which will include supervision of tour guides and sites. This includes a voluntary rating of 280 hotels by the end of the year. The ministry is planning to continue rating guest units in bed and breakfasts and other guesthouses according to the criteria of the Israel Bed and Breakfast - a standard that rates rural guesthouses in Israel based on international criteria adapted to Israel. The Galilee Development Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the organization of tourist associations led the rating process, which in 2011 included 300 units and in 2012 is expected to rate 800 units. The goals are to create consistent standards and to maintain "truth in advertising."

Recently the public committee established by Tourism Ministry to examine the costs of vacationing in Israel completed its work, and its conclusions are scheduled to be published in the coming month. The committee examined how to lower the cost of a vacation in Israel - for both foreign tourists and Israelis - through regulation and by reducing concentration in the industry. The present work program has yet to spell out what steps the ministry plans to take. Misezhnikov claims the ministry will continue to encourage domestic tourism, with a focus on reducing the costs of a vacation in Israel by removing barriers and canceling unnecessary regulations.

Another ministry objective for the coming year is to carry out a structural reform in the Government Tourist Corporation. This will include the creation of a fund to maintain sites where there have been investments, and the establishment of a unit to promote the planning and marketing of tourist sites.