Ministry Pulls Funding for Gay Tourism Amid Spat With Tel Aviv Municipality

Following city hall's refusal to finance a gala event for travel agents, Tourism Ministry revokes financial support for international publicity campaign.

The Tourism Ministry has revoked financial support for an international campaign promoting gay tourism in Israel, following the Tel Aviv municipality's refusal to finance a gala event for travel agents.

Municipal officials said the ministry was exerting unreasonable pressure on the city to finance the gala event. "The ministry's conduct is bullying and thuggish and it is cynically exploiting the gay community," said city council member Yaniv Weizman, the mayor's coordinator of gay affairs.

The Tourism Ministry and municipality had agreed to launch a joint campaign promoting gay tourism in the coming months in Europe and the United States, at a total cost of NIS 800,000. The city said it would earmark NIS 300,000 for the project. The Hotel Association agreed to contribute NIS 100,000, and the ministry agreed to pay NIS 400,000.

Meanwhile, the ministry also asked the city to allocate NIS 100,000 to finance a gala for foreign travel agents at an international conference due to be held in Tel Aviv. Municipality director-general Menahem Leiba refused. In response, the ministry reneged on its commitment to support the gay tourism campaign.

"We were disappointed by decision of the Tel Aviv municipality director-general not to finance the gala event for travel agents in the city," the ministry's deputy marketing director, Pini Shani, wrote in a letter to Etti Gargir, CEO of the Tel Aviv Tourism Association, and Adir Steiner, its gay affairs coordinator.

"Since we will have to finance and organize this evening, I decided to cancel our joint campaign to promote gay tourism," Shani wrote. "Gay tourism is so important, I'm sure the city will find the money for it without our participation."

The campaign was intended to continue previous advertising campaigns in the European media. Last year, the ministry and Tel Aviv municipality jointly financed a NIS 400,000 campaign.

Municipal sources said the campaigns were successful, attracting thousands of tourists to Israel throughout the year, particularly during Gay Pride Week.

"I was astounded by the Tourism Ministry's conduct," said Weizman, adding that the ministry's attitude was causing damage both to tourism and to the gay community. "The previous campaigns brought thousands of tourists to Israel. The results are evident," he said. "The ministry even described gay tourism as a strategic goal."

The ministry said it "invests tens of millions of shekels annually to market Tel Aviv as a leading tourism destination, at minimal cost to the city. This is the third year the ministry is holding a festive event for 200 senior travel agents from all over the world. ... In view of the city's decision to back out of financing the event, the ministry is forced to transfer funds to hold the event and cut its support for gay tourism, important as it may be."