Tourism chief aims to corral Wild West Jews to Israel

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It's a tough task. But Drori — who moved from Jerusalem to Los Angeles earlier this month with his wife, Osnat, and two sons — is a straight shooter, looking pointedly down the barrel at the obstacles that lie ahead.

For starters, 80 percent of the 13-state region's travelers to Israel come from California. So directing a great deal of energy to other Western states "isn't cost effective," Drori said during a recent interview in San Francisco.

"You can go to Montana and try to persuade travelers, but even if you increase travel to Israel by 100 percent, you're looking at 100 rather than 50 travelers."

Nonetheless, Drori sees some potential. He is targeting states like Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado. Especially Colorado.

"Lots of Christians there," he said. "We give a lot of emphasis to the Jewish market, but nationwide, less than 20 percent of Jews go to Israel. And most of them are repeat travelers."

Not that he's giving up on the 80 percent of U.S. Jews who haven't been to Israel. "They're our main target," he said. He believes Jews value Israel, "but they simply don't have the drive [to go there]. They love Israel, but they don't see it. It's like being in love over the phone but never having seen the person.

"It's different once you do."

Among Drori's plans for increasing Jewish travel to Israel are creating joint ventures with Jewish organizations and tour operators and "selling" destinations besides Jerusalem — Akko and Tsipori for history and archaeology, Eilat for scuba diving and resorts, and Tel Aviv for business and conferences.

However, he acknowledges the Christian market "has bigger potential. There's more of them."

Plus, "There's this whole notion in the Christian world of getting back to religion. Born again. [They're] more easily led by their community leaders," he continued. "Jews are historically organized in smaller groups. Churches can bring thousands [to Israel]. Synagogues can't."

Drori has a five-year assignment to make his mark and encourage more travel.

Armed with a bachelor's and master's in international relations from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and five years experience with the Ministry of Tourism in Israel, Drori follows in the footsteps of former tourist office director Rami Levi. But he follows his father's path in his personal life.

Drori, whose father made his career in the military, grew up in Tel Aviv, Singapore and Nova Scotia, Canada.

"Living abroad opens the eyes of children, especially young ones," said the father of Barak, 4, and Guy, 8 months. "Older one don't like it so much. It takes them from their roots."