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nrb 2024

Tourism Minister Katz tells NRB: 'In light of the war,' we must 'encourage tourism to Israel as much as possible'

Israel's Tourism Minister Haim Katz speaking at NRB 2024 (Photo courtesy)

Israeli Minister of Tourism Haim Katz is not a member of Israel’s War Cabinet but he is no less on the front lines. 

Katz attended the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Convention in Nashville, Tennessee last week where he was a keynote speaker. It was only his second time leaving Israel since the Hamas massacres on Oct. 7 and Israel’s war to eradicate Hamas and rescue all the hostages,

The tourism minister's attendance at the NRB demonstrates how significant Christian tourism is to Israel and how much of a priority it is for Katz to get tourism back on track to the levels it was before Oct. 7.

Katz is deep in the trenches, combatting lies and misperceptions about Israel, whose popularity is suffering as a result of the war. He was resolute that now is the time to visit Israel. Especially now. 

That’s the message Katz brought to the NRB and thousands of Christians during his speech. Of course, there is a paradox in Katz’s appeal to Israel’s Christian friends; to come to Israel now, to plan trips to Israel now, and to be part of the meaningful life-changing experience that Christian tourists experience. Katz’s message was not only to plan trips to Israel now but that despite the war, they would feel perfectly safe.

Israel's Tourism Minister Haim Katz and President and CEO of NRB Troy Miller cut the ribbon of the Israel booth. (Photo courtesy)

Why should tourists feel safe in the midst of a war? Katz did not hesitate to address the issue. Just as Israel evacuated citizens from along the Gaza and Lebanese borders, most of the country is outside the threat of immediate combat, thanks to the IDF doing its job of keeping threats contained. Whether in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, or throughout most of the Galilee, hotels are open and waiting for tourists to come back.  If the hotels and tourist areas are safe for Israelis who have been occupying them, they are safe for tourists.

The numbers are beginning to rebound with the upcoming Passover season showing high hotel occupancy rates. In addition, groups that canceled their tours in the early days of the war are beginning to reschedule, according to Katz.

The tourism minister was also clear that should there be any threats, Israel will not risk putting tourists in harm's way. Underscoring Katz's statement that Israel remains open to tourists, United Airlines announced that it will be resuming direct flights from the U.S. to Israel beginning in March, joining a growing list of airlines restoring direct flights to the Jewish state, or are planning to do so.

While millions of Christians have made significant donations to provide resources for Israeli citizens most affected by the war, Katz noted that a trip to Israel was not charity. 

According to Katz, a trip to the Jewish nation would be an investment in Israel and the tourism industry that has been hit so hard from tour guides to bus drivers, tourist shops, historic attractions, and other industries associated with the tourism sector.

A visit to Israel is about more than just tourism but a spiritual journey, Katz told the NRB audience, while noting that an investment in Israel has an ROI by offering a meaningful religious experience. Katz was not the only speaker who reiterated this message during interviews and in public forums.

Israeli Consul General Anat Sultan Dadon, while addressing the importance of Christian support for Israel, told the attendees at the Breakfast to Honor Israel on Thursday: “If you’re asking yourself if (visiting Israel) now is the time,” she answered, “Now is the time.”

In a private meeting, Katz revealed the sad state of statistics regarding the number of visitors to Israel since Oct. 7, comparing the all-but-near cessation of tourism in the early weeks of the war, to a gradual and steady increase. He also displayed a fluency in the tourism numbers from Isael’s peak of 4.5 million tourists in 2019 and shared his aspirations to restore that high with a plan, backed by data. According to the Ministry of Tourism, more than one-third of Israel’s visitors come from the United States, and of those, more than half are Christians.

Since Oct. 7, a growing number of smaller Christian solidarity delegations have visited Israel, leaving Katz optimistic that their positive experiences and good reports will be the key to restoring tourism to its peak levels.  

Despite an optimistic outlook, the past months have been difficult for Israel, as well as tour operators who bring tens of thousands of tourists to the Jewish state each year.

Joel James of Inspiration Tours, one of the top U.S. tour operators bringing Christian groups to Israel, noted that, to date, they have needed to cancel 28 planned tours. Other NRB attendees from the tourism industry expressed similar sentiments but they remain optimistic and are committed to bringing the tourists back.

Underscoring his sense of optimism, Katz noted that before Oct. 7, some 3.9 million tourists were expected to visit Israel, close to the 4.5 million high in 2019. While the numbers are still down, it represents a solid rebound from the time of the COVID pandemic, when tourism was at a complete standstill and the Israeli borders were closed to non-Israelis.

Israel bounced back and the tourists came back. Now, Katz believes the Ministry of Tourism is laying the foundation for a new record year in 2024.

"2024 will be characterized by faith-based and solidarity tourism," Katz stated.

"The NRB convention is a key event to garner support and promote travel to Israel. The American market is the largest source market for Israel, with the highest figures for incoming tourism and is very significant for the Israeli economy. Demand from the U.S. is at a peak. We must maintain the momentum and, especially in light of the war, encourage tourism to Israel as much as possible."

Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at [email protected].

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