The 4.5 million tourists who visited Israel in 2019 have stimulated an appetite among quite a few local authorities and hoteliers for a piece of the pie. The Ministry of Tourism estimates that tourists spend an average of $1,400 in Israel, the main beneficiaries of which are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Ashdod also wants a share now, and is presenting an ambitious tourism vision that includes construction of 15 hotels in the coming decade, a giant conference center, and even a water park. The city's hotel rooms currently account for a mere 400 (in two hotels - West All Suite Boutique Hotel and Leonardo Plaza Ashdod Hotel - and three motels) of Israel's total of 55,000 rooms.
"Ashdod has mainly one-day tourism, but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who comes to the city and spends money here is a tourist. The goal is to bring more people here and persuade them to sleep over in Ashdod - both domestic and incoming tourism. We'll offer an alternative to Tel Aviv," says Ashdod Tourism CEO Ofer Deri. Ashdod plans to realize this vision on 30 sites with an approved hotel urban building plan for construction of 4,000 rooms, all of them on the coastal strip. Two hotels are already under construction, including one by the Hilton Hotel chain that is a bone of contention because of opposition by residents.
Deri explains that the opposition is caused by the hotel's proximity to the sea. He says, "We will maintain a distance of at least 300 meters for the new hotels. In a 7.5-kilometer strip, if all of the hotels we want are built, it will amount to 1.5 kilometers. There is no reason for opposition, and that is the advantage of a wide strip of beach like Ashdod possesses."
Ashdod's coastal strip will feature a promenade in which NIS 150 million has been invested. The vision also contains construction of surfing beaches that will host competitions. It is clear to Deri that in addition to a congress and convention center "to compete with conferences in Eilat," realizing this vision requires thousands of rooms and recognition by developers of the potential he is talking about. In addition to grants from the Ministry of Tourism (20-33% of the investment), Deri wants to grant an exemption from municipal property taxes for new hotels in their first year. This requires government approval that is unobtainable during a transitional government.
"Globes": It is no coincidence that tourists prefer Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. How will you attract tourists to stay over in Ashdod?
Deri: "Ashdod will take steps, but the Ministry of Tourism also has to cooperate by not confining marketing to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It has a budget of hundreds of millions of shekels for marketing Israel, and it's marketing only two cities. In Jerusalem, it's hard to compete with the historical element, so I propose an addition: a three-day stay in Jerusalem and a three-day stay in Ashdod. I plan to complete against Tel Aviv. With all due respect to Tel Aviv, Ashdod will use the difference in hotel prices to give Tel Aviv a fight."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 14, 2020
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