After meeting with US President Barack Obama, addressing American officials and speaking at this week’s annual AIPAC policy conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday made his way from Washington to California to unveil a TV tourism program that, once aired, is expected to bring hundreds of thousands more tourists to Israel.
The program, produced and hosted by CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg, is an hourlong show presenting Israel’s tourist sites in a new light.
The production, created for Greenberg’s “Royal Tour” show and two years in the making, features footage shot the length and breadth of Israel, with Netanyahu himself introducing Israel’s major tourist spots.
The Israeli segment is the latest in a series of similar shows hosted by Greenberg and broadcast to millions of viewers. In all of them, the guides taking Greenberg on whistle-stop tours of their respective countries are the heads of state themselves – in Israel’s case, Netanyahu, who can even be seen pulling an Achilles tendon while playing soccer on the show.
After touching down in California late Tuesday, Netanyahu made his way to Paramount Studios in Hollywood to unveil the one-hour program to 500 people invited to the premiere.
“Is this the Oscars?” Netanyahu — fresh from meeting Obama in Washington — quipped after arriving in Los Angeles as the city was still recovering from the Academy Awards.
Upon introducing the program, Netanyahu said, “This movie depicts beautiful Israel and the spirit of its citizens. This is the real face of the Jewish state.”
When the lights came up after the screening, the prime minister was all smiles.
“It’s not only a vehicle to increase tourism, it’s also to dispel various calumnies about the State of Israel,” he said.
The program was shot in various tourist sites throughout Israel: Rosh Hanikra, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River and Haifa’s Technion campus in the North, Caesaria’s archaeological park on the coastline, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s Old City, and then down south to Masada, the Dead Sea and Eilat.
It took Greenberg’s production team – 29 crew members, 8 camcorders and 2 cameras – two years, on and off, to shoot the Israeli segment, an experience the renowned producer described as a “crazy” journey.
The producer said that while he had shot five other programs around the world — Jordan, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand and Jamaica — he found the Israeli episode the most enjoyable tour of all, adding that he and his crew had learned more during their time in Israel than in any of the other countries they’d filmed in.
He said he had lots of surprises in store for viewers — even Israeli ones, who he warned would find out while watching the program that they knew nothing about their own country.
“We’ll show them,” he promised.
The journalist stressed that Netanyahu had no editorial control over the one-hour film, which he was seeing for the first time.
“I’m either going to be wrestled to the ground, or I’ll get a hug,” he said before the lights went down.
The show received support from the Tourism Ministry due to its contribution to Israeli efforts in the fields of “public diplomacy, economy and tourism.”
2013 was a record-breaking year for Israeli tourism: despite a December blizzard that swept through the country and disrupted flight schedules, the all-time record for the number of entries into Israel was broken that month with 272,000 people entering, and over 3.5 million for the year.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of visitors to Israel was 14 percent higher in December 2013 than in December of the previous year. A record 3.54 million tourists entered the country in 2013, half a percent more than in 2012.
Once broadcast, Greenberg’s program is expected to draw at least 200,000 more tourists to Israel, according to Tourism Ministry estimates, giving its economy a boost and possibly setting yet another record.
On Wednesday Netanyahu is due to travel north to Silicon Valley, before returning to Los Angeles and leaving for home on Thursday.
AFP contributed to this report.