NEW YORK (Sep. 13)
Facing a roomful of leaders of American Jewish organizations last week, Gideon Patt, Israel’s tourism minister, described his recent victory over Israeli hotel owners with relish.
Last month, Patt and the Hotel Owners Association signed an accord which slashes room rates between 10 percent and 25 percent. The agreement, which goes into effect Sept. 17, also covers the prices charged for restaurant and other services.
Although Patt, a member of Likud’s Liberal Party wing, professes to oppose price controls, he finally determined that inflated hotel costs were taking Israel out of international competition for tourists and that steps had to be taken to bring down prices.
“If we want to be competitive, we have to deliver an attractive tourist package,” Patt told more than 100 leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who gathered Sept. 6 at a meeting convened by the National Committee for Tourism to Israel.
Patt said that the hoteliers, having grown accustomed to low room occupancy rates of 60 percent to 65 percent, “covered their expenses by overcharging people.”
Hotel owners, angered over being forced to lower prices, have blamed the Palestinian uprising for the failure to attract tourists.
While Patt admitted that tourists were concerned about the safety, he downplayed the intifada as playing a major role in the level of tourism to Israel.
“If the intifada is so important, was there less intifada in April of 1989 than in 1988? If the intifada is the reason, why did we have increases during that year?” he said.
Patt was referring to recent encouraging news regarding tourism to Israel. Speaking at a State of Israel Bonds North American Leadership Conference in Philadelphia last Friday, Patt reported that 970,000 tourists visited Israel in the first eight months of 1989, an increase of 12.5 percent over last year.
In the past two months, hotel occupancy in Israel has risen to 68 percent, compared to 60.6 percent the first six months of this year.
Some of the Jewish leaders at Patt’s presentation before the Conference of Presidents last week were critical of his dismissal of the publicity problems generated by the intifada, saying that Patt should develop a systematic plan to deal with the issue instead of ignoring it.
(JTA) Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Landau contributed to this report.)