Israel and California: Working Together

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 beaches of Tel Aviv can help draw tourists to Israel

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 world.

"He wants to help tourism because there is a great affinity between our nations," said Governor Schwarzenegger at the time of the signing.

"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 to Israel 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.