Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

El Al's Miki Gat
A New Dynamo of Promoting Tourism to Israel

By: Gad Nashon

Miki Gat is a new dynamo of promoting tourism to Israel from the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Peru and many countries in this continent. He expressed a deep concern to the state of American tourism to Israel in the years to come, more concern than just for his job as the new 'boss' of El Al in this continent. He is in charge of eight regional offices in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities. His 'boss' in Israel, General (Res.) Rafi Harlev, resigned and will leave El Al on October 12, 1996, for good. Harlev expressed a strong protest against the slow down of El Al's privatization. "I fully support this privatization. It is not a function of governments. I am looking forward to the process of El Al's privatization," said Mr. Gat to me in our morning interview at his headquarters in Manhattan.

Gat, a grass roots professional Israeli who speaks degree and honestly related to the aspects of Israeli security, i.e., a potential situation of a national emergency. "It is true that in an emergency situation only El Al, the national carrier, landed in Lod. I do recall the era of the last war in the Persian Gulf but in the act of privatization we can find an answer to this quest. It is not an excuse for deterring privatization," promised Gat, a professional El Al manager with few academic degrees.

As to Israel, Gat confesses, "1996 is a bad year for us. The year began with 18% increase of tourism, but since March we suffer from a decrease of 17%. This year we are losing tourists. By the way, there was a negative record in 1995. 1.8 million Israelis went abroad and only 1.6 million tourists visited Israel." Gat believes that the only reason for this decrease was due to the Palestinian terrorist acts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. When I suggested another explanation: small budgets for leisure time in the pockets of the potential tourists to Israel, Gat, who loves statistics, rejected this approach and argued with a touch of passion. "This economic situation does not explain a drastic change in the pattern of tourism. I glue to the security factor. That is the explanation for the decrease. I also believe that we will do better in the coming winter. Let's see the situation here. Around an average of 400,000 tourists visit Israel annually. It is in principle a huge achievement. Why? Only 30 million Americans hold passports. Many visit only Canada or Mexico. Around 7 million fly every year to Europe. The conclusions is 400,000 out of 7 million, or 6% of the American tourism, is an enormous record for Israel!"

For many years Israeli leaders and officials love to charge American Jewry with the detrimental fact that only 15% of the Jews living here did not visit Israel at all. They view this omission as the shame of the American Jewish community, almost on the verge of committing anti-Zionist crime. The Jewish organizations have tried to help Israel to promote tourism and to promote El Al as well, but it is not enough. Miki Gat suggested, "After the Six Days War I came here as an educator of Jewish youth. And since that period in my life, I came to one conclusion. We must fly to Israel every young Jewish boy or girl aging 13 to 18 as a basic guarantee for their own Jewish identity. They must visit at least once in Israel. And we Israelis and Jews must do everything in order to accomplish this national Jewish goal."

Miki Gat remarked that we must increase Jewish tourism to Israel. The annual average of Jewish tourism today is, according to Gat, around 120,000 Jews. Around 200,000 tourists who fly to Israel are Israelis. The other 80,000 are gentiles. Recently Israel enjoys pilgrimage from America. Many tourists live in the Bible Belt. El Al is their favorite carrier. It should be noted that Gat always argued that Israel's achievement in tourism in America is first of all due to the dedication and work of the tour operators in the field.

What's new in El Al? Get was willing to expose his new revolution in the infrastructure of El Al activities in North America and the key to this pending revolution is Chicago, the biggest airport in the world with 67 million passengers every year (J.F.K.: 'only' 30 million...). Gat explained, "Recently we found that the share of New York region in the tourist market is shrinking. And most of the passengers prefer non-stop flights to Israel. Therefore, we opened a non- stop flight from Los Angeles to Israel. It is now a big success, but the big change will be our flight from Tel Aviv to Chicago, Chicago-Los Angeles, Chicago-Tel Aviv. The flight from Chicago to Tel Aviv takes 11 1/2 hours. El Al operates 747's and provides the best service to its passengers and Kosher meals. Also, we are in the Internet providing the needed information. And in the winter we will operate a special line to Orlando."

As to the secrets of El Al's own security measures and devices which have contributed to its unique popularity among the passengers of the world, Gat apologized, "There is a custom in El Al's management not to speak about this sensitive issue. It's a taboo."

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