Ministry Looks to Develop Budget Tourism With New Hostels

Reversing previous policy, Tourism Ministry now recognizes the need to attract more backpackers and low-cost visitors to Israel.

The Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem.
The Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem.Credit: Michal Fattal

The Tourism Ministry will be making a push to provide tourists with more low-cost hostels by providing grants for their construction in the Jerusalem area and in outlying areas of the country, the ministry’s director general disclosed last week at a conference in Jerusalem.

Referring to the Abraham Hostel, a highly rated hostel in Jerusalem, ministry director general Amir Halevy told his audience that price-conscious, budget travelers actually do generate significant tourism revenues. The Abraham Hostel, he said, provides a tourism model through which foreign visitors may pay less on accommodations, but still spend sizeable amounts on touring, food and shopping.

Halevy was speaking at a conference sponsored by ILH, a network of 30 independently owned hostels around the country. This is the fourth time that ILH has convened such a conference, but it was the first conducted in English. The change was an effort to accommodate delegates from Jordan and the West Bank, who, along with a number of young Israeli entrepreneurs, are seeking to develop additional modestly priced accommodations for tourists.

Acknowledging that his ministry has provided grants to help set up luxury hotels, Halevy said hostels also deserve government assistance. There is no reason why the Waldorf Astoria would get government funding, he said, referring to the recently opened luxury hotel in Jerusalem, but low-cost tourist establishments would not. The Finance Ministry, he added, has demonstrated an openness to funding low-cost accommodations, and the matter is being explored in advance of his ministry’s budget deliberations.

The support expressed by Halevy for budget tourist options constitutes a shift in position at the Tourism Ministry over the past few years. Foreign visitors on a tight budget were essentially ignored as a ministry priority, in the belief that they didn’t spend enough in Israel to justify cultivating the sector. But, reflecting the wide-ranging changes that have been made in the ministry’s traditional marketing policy, Halevy said a promotional campaign featuring traditional hotels is being scrapped in favor of another campaign at the end of the summer that will focus on bringing budget travelers here in the fall and winter.

The major potential inherent in the opening of new hostels, Halevy said, is that in addition to providing lodgings at low prices, they can be up and running more quickly than conventional hotels. He cited, for example, the relatively simple option of converting existing office buildings into hostels, compared to the much longer procedure involved in constructing new hotels from scratch.

Halevy added that he and Tourism Minister Uzi Landau are of the belief that, in addition to Israel’s many natural attractions and good weather, cheaper options must be provided to further expand Israel’s appeal among foreign visitors.

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