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Create Memories in the Land of Creation

While travelling, what is the point of running and rushing if you are not enjoying some of the most beautiful and extraordinary places on earth? Take for example the ‘lowest point on earth’ we know as the Dead Sea! Israel Tourism, in its post-pandemic comeback policy, is strongly promoting quality slow travel instead of the ‘seen this’ & ‘done that’ tick mark approach, Sammy Yahia, Director of Tourism - India & Philippines, Israel Ministry of Tourism discusses with The Asian Footprints.

AFP Exclusive
June Mukherjee
New Delhi, June 17, 2022

How do you plan to be different from others to welcome tourists back to Israel?

June is the month of Pride. With over 170,000 locals, tourists, influencers and more from across the globe marching, chanting and celebrating, Tel Aviv Pride was back and as proud as ever waving its rainbow flags 'Back to Pride' was on everybody's lips celebrating all that has been achieved and continuing the support to the fight for equal rights for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Pride stage included a surprise performance by Eurovision legend Dana International followed by an entertainment extravaganza by many celebrity performers. As tourism is back, I feel that the Tel Aviv Pride Parade was a great event to push the ‘restart’. Pride events in Tel Aviv-Yafo are a long-standing tradition – almost 30 years, though this year was even more special to us because Israel opened boarders again and Tel Aviv was 'The World’s Greatest Playground' for a day with people from all four corners of the world attending the Parade, marching and dancing and celebrating equality for all.

Testing is no longer required for anyone travelling to Israel. The requirement to present a negative RT-PCR test prior to departure, and complete an RT-PCR test upon arrival followed by isolation has also been removed. However, travellers are still required to complete an entry statement within 48 hours from departure to Israel. In addition to the removal of testing requirements, the mask mandate for international flights to/from Israel has been lifted as well. This new development in Israel’s entry requirements is a great step in being able to welcome visitors back to Israel. This will make travelling to Israel simpler and more relaxing, and your vacation will begin the moment you step off the plane. I for one am thrilled to have visitors enjoy my home country. For every tourist, there is something or the other. Someone may like to enjoy Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, a group may like to head to the Dead Sea, or someone may like to explore Eilat or Haifa.

All this, against the background of a slow and consistent rise in incoming tourism to Israel post-pandemic. 207,400 tourist entries were recorded in April of this year, compared with 30,200 in April 2021 and 405,000 in April 2019. This points to a continuation of the recovery trend for incoming tourism to Israel, with a significant increase in relation to April 2021 and a decrease of about 49 per cent with regard to April 2019. The pace of tourist entries to date represents the basis for a forecast assessment of 1.5 to 2 million tourist entries in 2022.

Israel is a dynamic place to visit because we have the history, culture, and the combination of old and new as well as the best mix between the East and the West. If anyone reads the history of Israel, he or she will know how unique it is from any other country. Still, not only for us, but for all countries, this year is going to be very hard for tourism recovery, but we are on it. As you know, India and South Asia are huge markets and we are looking to tap newer niche pockets. We have plans for media, and agent fam trips for wider knowledge tours with new products and experiences so that our visibility spreads.

Now that you're targeting certain new sectors let’s talk about new and unique focus areas.

Yes, while entertaining small families or big groups, we are not forgetting other segments. We will still keep doing what we did in 2019, the pilgrims, the MICE, the agriculture workshop programmes, wellness, culinary tours etc. Now we see a lot of Bollywood actors enjoying their holidays and honeymoons in Israel. We see a lot of luxury tourists and increasing MICE activities. But now we find that we have to bring niche elements even in that also as there is demand, especially from the millennials. For example, Indian youth who are willing to visit Israel, not only have disposable money, but they want experiences. They just don’t want to eat the food, but they want to have the experience of cooking as well. They want to connect their emotions and create memories with their travel. As the land of creation, we are creating those ideas for the tourists to make memories. We are thinking differently for every segment. In the ties-ups we are doing with universities, we are making sure that the student from medicine or from agriculture meet his r her counterpart and discuss their research subjects, understand each other and do some quality academic exchange as well.

As you mentioned about thinking differently, it is also a visible trend of slow travel and not a tick mark travel. What’s your take?

Yes, people now want to do experiential travel. We are strongly saying take your time, and have a quality trip. It's better than just driving the bus to claim seen this and done that and take photos! You can Google it and see the photos. What we're doing all the time in the seminars when we meet agents, we are telling them please tell your tourists to come and enjoy, don't run, don't rush. It's not only travelling, it's not only a physical thing, but It's also mental. Your soul needs to be nice and happy to have fun and be relaxed and stress-free. Breathe, take the oxygen and have fun with the activity.
Usually, the Indians or even many other Asian countries do two or three countries like a package Jordan-Israel-Egypt. It takes 24 hours from Israel to Egypt by bus just to see the pyramid. If you take that kind of package journey for a day, get down from the bus, take a photo with the pyramids from outside, get up to the bus, and go back, does it really make sense? We ask you to reduce the time just to run between the borders and give more time to what you are seeing. The mind-changing must be done. We are strongly promoting the idea of travelling to create beautiful memories.

What is the immediate strategy to get back the tourist flow?

This year, it has just opened and we are observing and thinking small with the reopening and gradual revival. We want to be sure that everything is settled and that the pandemic is not coming back. We need to be innovative and smart. We would prefer to work slowly with quality and wait to see the result to be sure about what we are doing and not just jump for anything. We are looking at quality digital activities outside Europe and the United States, in Asia, our main focus market is India and the Philippines since China is still closed. Connectivity from India via Dubai and Bahrain is also very good now with Israel and we expect more tourists to take seamless flights as there are fewer travel hazards now. Tourists from other Asian countries can also book easy flights via Bahrain or Dubai.

There is no doubt just like every other country the word sustainability features on top for Israel. My question is how do you make the traveller a responsible one?

Yes, you are absolutely right, we do everything, from recycling water, paper, and plastic to clean energy. But it is not only the job of the hospitality sector to remain responsible. We can educate people and give them options to be responsible. We are talking about making them aware of how they can stop waste and it takes time to educate the people. For example, if you are coming to a hotel, there are options for you to recycle the towel, but it is up to the conscience of the tourist also to become responsible and not waste anything from bed sheets, towels, toiletries, water to food.

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