IGTO's new director is here to make some noise
As Gal Hana sees it, opportunity is knocking for Israel’s tourism industry in the Canadian market. And as the new director for Canada for the Israel Government Tourist Office, Hana plans to “make some noise” about it during his time here.
Off the top, it’s certainly “noise worthy,” so to speak, that it has been four years since IGTO has had a director in Canada; and Hana is clearly aware of that fact, telling Canadian Travel Press that: “Everyone told me the potential in Canada is huge, and, in the last four years, we haven’t had a director here in Canada. Jerry [Adler] and Ellen [Melman] did an amazing job moving everything forward, but I think head office has given less attention than it should have to Canada, and now towards 2020 and beyond, [and now], we are really looking to push the Canadian market to Israel.”
As he takes up his new role, Hana is clearly passionate about selling Israel to Canadians, noting that: “Israel has a great product for the Canadian tourist. And why is that? It’s because the Canadian tourist is a sophisticated one that has been in several countries before. They know about tourism. They know what they want. They’re willing to pay for a quality product.”
And that’s exactly the kind of traveller that IGTO’s new Canadian director says Israel is looking for, explaining: “What I am here for is, first of all, to promote the awareness of the evolution of the Israeli [tourism] product. That it’s not only a faith-based product, but it allows you to combine many, many aspects in one tour.”
Hana continued: “I believe that our goal is quality over quantity. We are going to promote high-end activities with the stakeholders within the industry and show them Israel’s [tourism] product and explain why it is such a good opportunity.”
A creative approach
Hana officially arrived in Canada about a month ago from Israel, and he certainly did his homework before coming to Canada, talking to stakeholders who knew the Canadian market and knew tourism and asking them whether he should take the job here or not, and they all told him that it would be a “great professional experience.”
At head office in Israel, he told CTP: “We saw that there are megatrends in the world that are affecting tourism, in particular. You know, aging and the quality of life, digitization and the unstable geopolitical atmosphere and, of course, the reduction of flight costs and the fact that tourists now are looking for tailor-made product that is customized for them.”
And he made it clear that Israel’s tourism product is perfect for that kind of traveller, observing that in the last three years, Israel’s tourism product has “made a tremendous change” with the Ministry shifting its focus from a Faith-based product to a broader offering that combines faith-based programs with traditional leisure travel programs, City Breaks, LGBTQ product, Adventure, and a whole lot more. It is a combination; a multi-functional tourist product that I think is unique to Israel.”
He also pointed to the size of Israel as an attraction for visitors, explaining that within an hour’s drive, they can travel to the north and to Galilee; an hour to Tel Aviv; an hour to Jerusalem; an hour to the desert – and that’s something that’s unique to Israel and “differentiates Israel from other destinations.”
Plus, he added, “we’ve started to promote Israel in the different channels in very, very innovative and creative ways,” and the result has been that “more and more people are considering Israel and booking Israel as their next destination, and the numbers back it up because you see that we are in the most amazing time in tourism in Israel” with the country welcoming over four million tourists in 2018 which is one million more than it hosted in 2017.”
That growth in arrivals is mirrored by the increase in tourism companies expanding their activities to include Israel, with Hana pointing out that today, there are over 140 new airlines [flying] to Israel with over 70 new airline companies with offices there. A number of major hotel chains, like Hyatt and others, have opened or are opening properties in the country.
Better still, IGTO’s new Canadian director said: “More and more agents – who never before thought about selling Israel product – are now selling Israel. Not only because the Ministry approached them or our offices around the world approached them, but because [their clients] are asking for Israeli product.”
Making some noise
“I came to make noise,” Hana told CTP when asked about his plans for Canada.
“I think that Israel has a great product for the Canadian tourist.”
Hana observed. “We’re looking for someone who comes for the Holy Land – to see the holy city of Jerusalem and the old city of Jerusalem, regardless of their faith and connections – but at the same time, they want to take a bike and go to the Negev and see the amazing desert. And on the same trip, do a city break and experience the amazing nightlife of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
“What I am here for is first of all to promote the awareness of the evolution of the Israeli [tourism] product. Adding that he’s also here to explain to the travel trade why selling Israel is “such a good opportunity” for them.
But he also has another tool in his toolbox – marketing agreements, telling CTP that the Ministry has shifted to marketing agreements based on performance.
“We are looking for quality marketing agreements that will bring more and more new tourists to Israel, as well as return/repeat ones,” he said.
Hana explained that it’s only recently that the Ministry has started to make marketing agreements with its partners in the industry and that came following a study of how other ministries of tourism use them to promote their destinations.
The result, Hana said, was “we saw that pretty much every one [of them] do marketing agreements now because this is the basic way for you [a tourist board] to incentivize an agent.”
He continued: “We are looking for those agents that will promote Israel, but seriously, through their website, their brochures, their seminars and webinars and conferences and for [those agents] we are willing to incentivize them, and we do that nicely.”
Quality versus quantity
In this respect, Hana noted that IGTO has “very creative ideas. We have new, branded logos. We have brands for different segments of tourist product. We have really worked on our marketing approach, so that every agent can find [product] and customize it for their specific [market] segment.”
And, while marketing agreements with incentives are attractive, Hana doesn’t believe they will be the single reason that a trade partner will sell Israel. “I think it’s a good add, on, but I think that basically, and this is what my main message is, I think that the product is good, the numbers back it up and this is why a new hotelier, a new airline company or a new agent will sell Israel.”
“That’s my approach,” Hana said, “and this is what will lead our activities here in Canada. We have excellent product. We have any kind of product that you want. We have, I think, the most well-known Faith product in the world, but we want to highlight the other ones as well that we invested billions [of dollars] in over that last [few] years to elevate.”
So what about challenges, well, says Hana, most of them will be “ex-organic,”
explaining that: “We can talk about the strength of the economy, so the Israeli shekel is quite strong and the product is not as cheap as it could be, but again, Israel is not competing in the world of price, but in the world of quality.” And he added that the satisfaction rate is 93%; Israel has a high rate of return visitors, so that while the product may be a little bit expensive, it’s worth it.
Eyes on the horizon
In any conversation about Israel, the question of security will in all likelihood come up, and Hana explains that when these kinds of issues come up, the approach is to stick to the business at hand which is selling the country’s tourism product.
And that, said Hana, is how “we approached everything in the last three years, and it shows the results.”
Hana tells of a conversation he had with a friend of his who was a pilot, and he asked him how flying works and his friend told him that: “You always keep your eye on the horizon because there are always setbacks on the way and if you look on the setbacks, you will crash, but if you keep your eyes on the horizon all the time, you will go smoothly.”
He continued: “I think that tourism is kind of a product like that. You need keep your eyes on the vision. Set your goals and keep your eyes on the vision because you will have setbacks.”
In this respect, he pointed out that Israel wants to welcome five million visitors by 2021; and “along the way there will be, I don’t know, small security events – as I said, ex-organic – if you will concentrate on them and not on the horizon, we will lose our way.”
And he added: “Even in navigation, when you learn navigation in the army, you learn that you need to remember your route and not let small things interrupt and get in the way.”
As for Canada, Hana told CTP: “What we are going to do, basically, in the next few months is set the vision and goals for the Canadian office as a part of the head office and the Ministry approach.”
“I’m here for four years or so,” he continued, “and we’re going to make a multi-yearly plan for us to seek to promote Canada and not only with small stepping stones, but with a big plan with milestones along the way that will allow us to keep our eyes off the small setbacks and go all the way to the vision and how we perceive tourism from Canada to Israel – this is how we are going to promote Israel.”