Kinneret Drops to All-time Low - in Popularity, Too

Israeli Arabs and Jews split over its appeal, survey finds.

Lake Kinneret's public image has hit rock bottom. The majority of the Jewish-Israeli population does not see it as a tourist destination, a survey has found.

Yaron Kaminsky

The survey, held in July among 500 Jews and 200 Arabs who vacation in Israel at least once a year, found that only 40 percent of Israeli Jews see the lake as a tourist destination, compared to 80 percent of the Arabs.

"The government renounced responsibility for the Kinneret, and the local authorities are incapable of looking after it," said Yossi Vardi, chairman of the Kinneret Regional Association of Towns.

Moreover, 22 percent of those who have not visited the lake or don't intend to visit it say nothing can induce them to do so, according to the survey, which was conducted by Rotem TRI Strategic Market Research for the tourism team, one of 15 teams working on the Kinneret shores' master plan for the Interior Ministry.

The Kinneret Law enacted some three years ago put responsibility for looking after the lake's beaches on a new organization - the Kinneret Regional Association of Towns.

"This was after years in which the government shifted responsibility for the Kinneret to the local authorities, which could not handle it," said Giora Shaham, an adviser for the association.

The Interior Ministry is due shortly to publish 14 detailed plans for each of the Kinneret's beaches, Shaham said.

Contractors who win the public tenders issued for some of the beaches will invest in developing and managing the beaches for 10-15 years and then hand them over to the state. The association will supervise those beaches.

Other beaches will be developed by the government with a NIS 180 million investment and then be operated by franchise owners.

In about five years, the development work and facilities on the beaches surrounding the Kinneret are expected to be completed. Each beach will have its own character - a surfers' beach, a pilgrims' beach, a family resort beach etc, said Shaham.

However, the association will also have to overcome the Kinneret's poor public image, as reflected in the survey.

A quarter of the people who don't visit the lake and said there is no chance they will do so, told the pollsters they "don't like the place." Another quarter said they "don't like the people there" or that "it's unclean and untidy" and "there's nothing to do there."

Some of the reasons for people's dislike of the Kinneret were dirt (27 percent ), "no water" in the lake (12 percent ) and crowded beaches and vulgar people (22 percent ). Only 11 percent - 58 percent of them Arabs and 7 percent Jews - said they "love everything about the Kinneret."

Only 7 percent of the Jews plan to go to the Kinneret for a holiday or have been there in the past, compared to 52 percent of the Arabs. The Jews prefer Eilat and Upper Galilee (29 percent each ). Eilat is also the Arabs' preferred tourist destination (29 percent ).

However, 19 percent said low prices could induce them to come to the Kinneret and 13 percent said cleaner beaches with better facilities could do the trick.

The survey also found that half of the Jews who visit the Kinneret don't stay the night, while two-thirds of the Arabs stay two or more nights at the site.

The association people believe the lake's image could be changed following the beaches' improvement. They are pinning their hopes on "recently disappointed" visitors to the Kinneret. Half of those who now refrain from visiting the lake said they had been there in the past three years. These people could be the target of a public relations campaign to bring people back to the Kinneret, said Yael Sela, spokeswoman for the association.

Some of these people said in the survey they might return if they heard of an attractive price offer and improved conditions, Sela said.