While harrowing stories and video of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict often fill newspapers and TV screens, a November agreement signed between California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Israel Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog is hoped to spur tourism between the two states and mitigate the fears of prospective travelers.
The signed pact formed the California-Israel Tourism
Commission, which aims to increase tourism to Israel
by Californians while also encouraging more Israelis to visit California. The man behind the idea was Haim
Saban, an Israeli-born California
media mogul best known for inflicting the "Power Rangers" on the
"He wants to help tourism because there is a great
affinity between our nations," said Governor Schwarzenegger at the time of
"It underscores how important tourism is to both Israel and California,"
says Rami Levy, incoming director of the Israel Government Tourist Office in
the western United States.
Yet the commission has a tough task ahead, as leisure travel
has steadily declined due to unrest in the region. Dan Presser, owner of
Carmel, CA-based Four Winds Travel, which counts travel to Israel among its specialties, is one travel
agent that hopes the commission will succeed in driving more tourism to Israel.
"Our Israeli travel has gone down—of course because of
the conflict. It's not one of the hottest places," says Presser. "The
Israelis, though, need to help out themselves. There is more money in peace
than there is in war."
Arie Sommer, commissioner of tourism for Israel in North America and South America, downplays
the violence in Israel
and hopes that the support of the commission will drive future tourism.
"There are problems everywhere," he says. "Once they know that
the governments are involved, they will feel more comfortable. We really hope
it will contribute to boosting visits."
California is the
second-best producer of travel to Israel
behind New York.