In between watching Tour de France riders cruise through the countryside and up and down steep mountains, European viewers this summer have also been treated to panoramic and peaceful views of Israel, the product of an ill-timed Tourism Ministry ad blitz.
The Eurosport deal, including commercials during the high viewership period of the Tour de France bike race, was a push to get affluent, active people to consider visiting Israel. But coming amid intense fighting with Gaza and high tensions with West Bank Palestinians, the attempt to portray Israel as a beautiful and safe destination may not be able to compete with pictures of rockets and airstrikes on the evening news.
“If we had the option to push it off we probably would have,” said Pini Shani, the deputy director of marketing at the Tourism Ministry. He said the ministry’s contract with Eurosport, which Ynet reported to be at least $1 million for a year of commercials and special emphasis on events such as the Tour de France, prohibited it from making changes once the campaign was underway. The commercials ended on Sunday, the last day of the Tour de France.
Shani added that the Tourism Ministry does not actively promote Israel during times of war. “Someone sees rockets falling in Israel on the news, and then we say, ‘Look! It’s such a wonderful place!’ — of course that’s a problematic message,” he said.
Many on social media criticized the decision for Eurosport to partner with the Tourism Ministry, especially given the current situation.
— Jens (@vitusson) July 27, 2014
The Tourism Ministry is already dealing with a significant decrease in tourists as a result of the situation. On Tuesday, it reported a 13% drop in tourist entries through Ben-Gurion Airport in the first three weeks of July.
Also on Tuesday, the Tourism Ministry announced a special committee to assess the economic damage of Operation Protective Edge on various businesses associated with tourism. They will present their findings to the government in 21 days. Recommendations could include discounts on municipality taxes and compensation for businesses whose employees were drafted to fight or that were required to employ additional security guards.
In previous conflicts such as Operation Cast Lead, it took the tourism economy approximately a year to recover to the level it was before the war, Shani said. However, with Operation Pillar of Defense, it only took about three or four months, possibly because that was a shorter campaign, he added.
“We’re doing as much as possible to minimize the damage,” Shani said. He added that the ministry planned a massive international tourism campaign for September.
“Everyone is invited to come to Israel the day after the war ends,” he said. “Look, they’re invited to come today, but it’s not a message they want to hear right now.”