Stas Misezhnikov
Stas Misezhnikov Israel news photo: Flash 90

Israel's Tourism Ministry has done its part in preparing its sector for war -- issuing Home Front Command guidelines in English for tourists and maintaining contact with its counterparts in the industry -- but it also has prepared its plan for the south for "the day after," Minister Stas Misezhnikov assured harried business owners Tuesday during a tour of the south.

Misezhnikov promised an aid package worth hundreds of thousands of shekels to support the recovery of the tourism industry in southern Israel once a ceasefire is secured, the missile fire on Israeli civilians is silenced, and Operation of Pillar of Defense is at an end.

"We have formulated a package of incentives and benefits for tourism providers in the south,” Misezhnikov said. "We will be here after the operation has finished in order to help the residents who are displaying such bravery. They give us the courage to be victorious and we will not forget them the day after,” he said.

"The tourism industry represents one of the main anchors in the south and the tourism ministry is making preparations for its rehabilitation when the military operation ends,” Mesezhnikov added.

The aid is to include grants for expanding and upgrading tourism businesses and zimmers (bed and breakfast [B&B] establishments), he said. In addition, there will be 50 percent funding for tourism events in the south.

The minister, who was accompanied by senior representatives from the Tourism Ministry, met with hoteliers and B&B owners as well as other tourism providers whose businesses have been damaged during the current conflict.

The economic aid will be offered to tourism service providers in Be'er Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sha'ar HaNegev and the Gaza Belt areas.

It will include grants for entrepreneurs in the rural tourism industry and business owners who express interest in opening a new establishment and/or expanding an exisiting business.

The aid will include grants of up to 24 percent of the overall investment cost, in accordance with the published conditions.

Also included will be tourism consultation for businesses in the Gaza periphery in the framework of a tourism incubator – similar to the assistance offered by the ministry to the tourism service providers in the Carmel region after the 2010 fire on Mount Carmel.

A NIS 200,000 increase in the tourism incubator budget has been approved at the ministry in order to accommodate the effort, the minister announced.

Mobile tourism incubators will be stationed, in accordance with demand, in the towns along the Gaza Belt area, in cooperation with MATI Be'er Sheva.

The ministry is also planning to hold special events at Ashdod Port to rejuvenate the site for cruise ships. In addition, the budget for the Red South festival scheduled for February 2013 will be increased, along with the number of tours to the area that include Israeli VIPs, in order to strengthen domestic tourism.

Misezhnikov also promised to ask the Civil Service Commision to encourage the scheduling of conferences and professional training events for government ministries in the affected areas.

The Tourism Ministry's situation room was established over the weekend and has remained in contact with tour operators, travel agents, guides and airline companies.

The ministry has also issued Home Front Command guidelines for tourists in English which have been distributed at hotels.