Selling Israel is not as simple as putting up a poster or announcing specials in an e-newsletter.
Although three basic consumer groups comprise the majority of travelers to Israel (Jewish, Christian, and general) each of those markets is highly segmented, particularly the religious market. And, each segment has different selling points and marketing messages. There are also significant differences in each segment based on the traveler’s geographic location.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism currently has regional directors located in the Northeast, Midwest, South and West. Travel Market Report spoke with each director about the key consumer markets in their region, and how travel agents can craft their message to reach those potential travelers to Israel.
Sharon Katzav, deputy director
Travel sellers in the Northeast should primarily be selling general travel to Israel, as well as targeting Jewish groups, Katzav told Travel Market Report. Jewish travelers are best reached through direct contact with synagogues or community Jewish groups, she added.
“The best way to sell Israel [to Jewish people] is to talk about the Jewish homeland, about family gatherings in Israel (Bar/Bat Mitzvah), and renewals of vows,” Katzav said.
Additionally, a portion of the Jewish market overlaps with the sophisticated general market, which has more of an interest in cultural travel than in religious travel. Agents should market Israel to this subset of the Jewish market, as well as to the general market, via its niche travel opportunities.
“Israel has an adventure market, family gatherings and great spas,” Katzav said.
“Also go to the young market. We have great nightlife, great restaurants and world-class wine.”
In fact, foodies and wine lovers throughout the U.S. are a strong potential market for travel to Israel, Katzav said, pointing out there are more than 250 boutique wineries in the country.
Travel agents should not limit themselves to selling general travel and the Jewish market to Israel, she added. Much of the potential Christian market in the Northeast remains untapped, and many Christians in the Northeast have not been to Israel.
With this in mind, Katzav told Travel Market Report, the Ministry of Tourism in the Northeast is focusing more on Christian travelers this year. “It would be good [for agents] in our region to reach out to Christian leaders here,” she said.
Uri Steinberg, consul, director
The Midwest’s target audience is evangelical Christians, said Uri Steinberg, consul, director of the Midwest region. “Pretty much throughout the Midwest it’s a pretty conservative, faith-based audience.”
Steinberg said that fact gives agents an advantage when selling the “Holy Land” versus more traditional sun and fun destinations. Christians have a desire to visit Israel because they hear about it in church, from their pastors, and they read about it in their Bibles. “It’s easier to sell the Holy Land to people of faith,” Steinberg said.
Expertise in Israel gives agents a big advantage in selling the destination. Where a traveler might shop for a cheaper deal for a tour or cruise online, that’s not the case with Israel, he said. “We know that Israel remains a destination where people want to have their hand held. It’s not a destination that people are going to book on Expedia.”
Steinberg suggested that agents focus on developing a group trip to Israel by working through their own church, and/or making connections with other churches through a relative or neighbor.
As for messaging, Steinberg said the phrase, “You’ll never be the same after you’ve been to Israel” is especially appealing to the Christian market. “In order to understand your Bible you have to go to Israel,” is another good message to use.
Joe Diaz, director
While the Southern region shares some similarities with the Midwest, there are some significant differences. Both are strong faith-based markets, both composed primarily of the Protestant market. However, there are also large pockets of Catholics, as well as sizable Hispanic markets in Florida and Texas. Additionally there are significant Jewish populations in parts of Florida, Georgia and Texas.
Diaz said agents should understand that the messaging for Protestants and Catholics is different.
“When you’re talking to the evangelicals you’re talking more about the teaching of the Bible and Jesus. But when you’re talking to the Catholics your messaging also relates to the recent visits of the Pope to the Holy Land,” Diaz said.
The Virgin Mary is also important to Catholics, and especially Hispanic Catholics. In fact, the Ministry of Tourism just created a list of itinerary points of interest specifically related to the Virgin Mary. The Ministry also has literature available in Spanish for agents seeking to target that market.
“We’re actually just in the final stages of coming out with a Hispanic leader’s Christian kit,” he added.
Diaz also said agents should target consumers interested in niche markets for travel to Israel. “Israel has a lot of niche markets,” he said. “There are people who want to go for history, culture, archaeology – and there are culinary and wine tours. There’s also adventure tourism and medical tourism.”
Eliezer Hod, consul and director
The West has one of the most diverse demographic populations when it comes to marketing Israel, Hod told Travel Market Report. It includes a very large and “fast-growing” population of Hispanics, both Catholic and evangelical, Mormons and Jews.
“It is important to understand the different denominations and market to them accordingly,” Hod told Travel Market Report.
The Mormon market is unique to the Western region, which includes Utah, Idaho and Montana, where the vast majority of the 7.5 million Mormons in the U.S. live.
When speaking to this population, Hod advised that travel sellers are sensitive to the fact that many people prefer to be referred to as belonging the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
“Members of the LDS church have been coming to visit Israel for many years and even built the impressive BYU Jerusalem Center,” he said.
When selling the Holy Land to members of the LDS, travel agents should emphasize the opportunity they will have to further study their faith in the Holy Land. For agents unfamiliar with the market, Hod suggested they work with Morris Murdock Travel, a large Utah-based tour operator that focuses about half of its business on the LDS market.