New York — One of the economic casualties of Israel's march into Lebanon has been its all-important tourist trade. Understandably, only the hardiest of sightseers will hazard a visit to their favorite momument or ruin, if there is fighting nearby.
Nervous about their personal safety, fewer tourists have been traveling to Israel. Last year, the overall falloff of visitors from abroad was 12 percent, with some large United States package-tour companies reporting booking losses in the 20 to 25 percent range.
But this year, Israel isn't taking its tourist trade losses sitting down. Coinciding with the summer travel season, it is counterattacking with an intensive new advertising campaign that beckons to American travelers with the signature line, ''Come to Israel, come stay with friends.''
''Tourism is the primary source of foreign currency for Israel,'' explains Geoffrey Weill, director of public relations at the Israel Ministry of Tourism office in New York. And he adds, ''While Americans make up a quarter of our tourist traffic, they contribute one-third of the dollars.''
The Israel Ministry of Tourism has announced that it is increasing its advertising budget fourfold, to a figure of $2.5 million. And there's a distinct possibility that, as the summer wears on, another $3 million will be pumped into the campaign.
To spark its drive to recapture lost tourist dollars, Israel has chosen the Issues & Images Division of Needham, Harper & Steers, the ad shop noted for its advertising efforts on behalf of Xerox. More recently, the division added Deloitte, Haskins & Sells to its clientele and created the first national advertising campaign for this respected accounting firm.
Israel's new campaign places heavy emphasis on television and radio advertising. Commercials are designed to run in three eight-week waves, using alternate weeks in each wave. The campaign was launched last month in New York, the major market for travel to Israel. When the additional funds are authorized, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Boston, and Philadelphia will be added.
Although some print advertising is scheduled for such periodicals as Esquire, Geo Magazine, The New Yorker, Signature Magazine, and Travel & Leisure, for the most part Israel's print effort is to be concentrated in highly specialized publications that reach out to an ethnic market or those groups with a Holy Land orientation. For its print advertising, Israel will continue to use an older tag line, ''Miracle on the Mediterranean,'' superimposed over the logo line specifically designed for the new campaign.
The campaign concentrates on the American audience in the 25 to 64 age group and on households with a minimum annual income of $40,000.
Barry Beiderman, president of Needham, Harper & Steer's Issues & Images, feels the time has come for Israel to use its advertising dollars to broaden its consumer base. ''In the past, Israel had a stable audience in the US, which consisted mostly of Jews and those with a religious interest in traveling to the Holy Land,'' he says. But as families mature, there is less of a tug to visit the homeland. And how many times can even a devout sightseer travel to the same historic site?
Mr. Biederman says he feels it's time for Israel to attract new and younger travel prospects. ''The way for Israel to build a broader, more stable visitor base is for its advertising to put more emphasis on Israel as an attractive, year-round resort area rather than just a place for sightseeing. And Israel has so much to offer in this direction. Where else in the world can you stroll along the beach and discover with your toes some old Roman potsherds?'' he asks. ''In Israel, you can relax and get in touch with history at the same time.''