Competing against the world’s most breathtaking locales, the Dead Sea is just three months away from potentially being named one of the world’s seven natural wonders as part of the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition. The online voting contest seeking to name seven natural wonders of the world is years in the making and is set to finish on November 11, 2011.
The organizers want to have 1 billion votes cast on their website, www.new7wonders.com. The current results are confidential, but Israel’s Tourism Ministry said they feel the Dead Sea is doing well so far, even if they don’t know whether it is currently in the top seven or not.
Pini Shani, director of the Overseas Department in the Marketing Administration of the Tourism Ministry, said in an interview by phone with The Mideast Update that they have not been told exact numbers, but that “we are sensing from the organizers that its competing very well, that people know about the site and vote for the site.”
Among the other 28 locations still in the New 7 Wonders competition are the Galapagos Islands, the Grand Canyon and the Amazon Rainforest. It is unclear at this point how many votes will ultimately be cast in the contest, but keeping in mind the billion the organizers are wanting, Shani said the Tourism Ministry has estimated the Dead Sea will need at least 300-400 million votes to be one of the top seven.
Should the Dead Sea win, Shani said they believe it will give the site and Israel “a big push as a destination,” that people will know more about it, will have the desire to visit and hopefully do so. “We estimate that there will be people that will come here because of this victory.”
Among the reasons Shani listed as why they feel the Dead Sea should win are that it is the lowest place on earth and the largest natural spa, the site’s long history and the site’s combination of water and desert.
He said Israel is presently promoting the Dead Sea primarily on the internet. That includes a website (www.votedeadsea.com) that provides a wealth of information about the famous salty body of water and can link people to the voting booth at the New 7 Wonders website. The public relations efforts are also being done in multiple languages—from Mandarin Chinese to Italian.
According to Shani, they have also had some celebrities cast their vote for the Dead Sea when they are in Israel and share the news to their fans.
Shani noted that it is hard to estimate on how the contest and marketing campaign has affected tourism to the Dead Sea. There are multiple factors that go into someone coming to visit, although he said that “telling the story of the Dead Sea in many places and in various aspects” is good for the site and the country.
Overall this year, tourism to Israel as a whole is hovering around the nation’s records set the year before. So far, 2011 has seen a decrease in the number of day visitors from last year, but Shani said tourist numbers (visitors of more than 24 hours) are up slightly from the same time in 2010.
A recent Tourism Ministry press release release said that 1.9 million visitors overall arrived during January-July 2011 (1.6 million tourists staying more than one night). Incoming tourism to Israel through July of this year has generated 8 billion shekels ($2.27 billion) in revenue, which when combined with domestic tourism raises the total contribution of tourism to the Israeli economy up to to 15 billion shekels ($4.26) so far this year.
Shani noted that Israel’s day visitor tourism has been hurt by a decline in visitors crossing the joint border from Egypt for the day. Egypt was among the nations rocked by mass protests in recent months, affecting tourism to their country.
While Israel has had some symbolic protests over housing costs and other social issues, such as the tent city in downtown Tel Aviv and some mass marches on weekends, the Jewish state is not being faced with the mass riots and violence that has marked the Arab Spring.
Said Shani, “Israel is a democracy, and there are other ways to settle arguments within the people, and everything is quiet and nice over here and the people can come and visit.”
In light of the current climate in the Middle East and negative publicity stemming from the riots and protests in other nations, Israel is feeling content about this year’s tourism figures.
“Altogether we are very satisfied with this year,” said Shani. “Hopefully it could be a better year if the situation in the region was more quiet, but we have to face the reality and cope with it.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, August 18, 2011)