Israel looks to tourism for more people-to-people ties: Envoy

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 16, 2013 13:50 hrs

New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) Israel is looking to enhance people-to-people contact with India by hardselling itself as a holistic tourism destination and encouraging the trade spin-offs brought about by the increased interaction.

"At the end of the day, tourism is the main thing we have to facilitate nore intensive interaction between people for better understanding," Israeli ambassador Alon Ushpiz said Wednesday.

He said the focus to push tourism was part of Israel's commitment to widen cooperation with India on the completion of 20 years of diplomatic ties between the countries in 2012. The efforts have paid off with a sprawling tourism pavilion at SATTE travel mart in the capital and several cultural and trade initiatives which will continue through 2013, he added.

Inaugurating the Israel pavilion at SATTE, South Asia's largest B2B travel mart in the country Jan 16-18, Ushpiz said Isreal and India have signed a memorandum of understanding to boost bilateral ties in the tourism sector with a dedicated office in Mumbai and increasing air connectivity between the two countries.

Israeli national carrier El Al operates four direct flights a week from Tel Aviv to Mumbai, most of which are fully booked during the season, the envoy said.

He said he had met Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh to discuss the possibility of tie-ups between Israeli and Indian carriers to reach out to state capitals and smaller cities.

An India-Israel agreement aims to increase tourism to and from both countries by half by the end of 2013 to 150,000.

"Israel is turning to India because the country has emerged number one in terms of tourist arrivals from Asia," the envoy said.

"The number of Indian tourists to Israel is dramatically growing and is reaching well over 40,000 people (on an average) a year. Seeing the huge potential of Indian tourists, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism decided to put India at the forefront of its promotional activity in Asia, and is in the advanced stages of opening a fully operational tourism promotion office in Mumbai," he said.

"The figures have been growing steadily from nearly 20,000 Indian arrivals in 2010 to 40,000 in 2011 and nearly 100,000 in 2012," Ushpiz said.

According to the envoy, India and Israel "share unique chemistry. One of the most beautiful attributes of Indian culture is the importance it stresses on hospitality and treatment of guests, even complete strangers."

Explaining the similarity in culture of welcoming guests in India and Israel, the envoy said: "The spirit of welcoming tourists is expressed in the ancient Hindi saying 'Athiti devo bhava (A guest is God)'. Similarly, in Jewish tradition, the concept of 'Hachnasat

Orchim' - showing hospitality to a stranger - is one of the key components of Jewish identity," he said.

"In Israel, we have an adage that whoever knocks on your door, you are to open the door and embrace him," the envoy told IANS.

He said all the leading tour and travel companies would be present at

the SATTE pavilion to showcase Israel's tourism potential.

He said Israel was a fascinating country because of its open and democratic society that was similar to India in its political ethos and a mesmerizing blend of cultures, religions, beliefs, traditions and ways of life.

Ushpiz said "a visitor to Israel could experience an array of options like snowboarding in Mt. Hermon, water skiing and sky diving in Eilat on the Red Sea riviera, dancing the night away in one of Tel Aviv's world famous night clubs and luxuriating in the spas overlooking the Mediterranean and the sea of Galilee".

The country's strength was religious tourism with ancient Christian, Jew and Muslim religious relics in Jerusalem's old city, Nazereth, the cradle of Christianity and its adjoining areas associated with the growth Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths.

The Bedouin desert safaris and the traditional cuisines were big draws on the itinerary.

"Contrary to perceptions, Israel is a fun country with a high level of English-speaking people. It is trying to adapt itself to the needs and tastes of different groups of people," the envoy said.

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