Snorkeling, hiking, cycling, diving, kayaking among other normal holidays is what Israel, a explore worthy vacation destination has on offer to woo the Indian traveler. Religion tourism and adventure tourism are among the niche segments which the country aims to target.
An email interaction with Hassan Madah, Director – Israel Ministry of Tourism India and Philippines conducted by Jane D’Cruz, Consulting Editor, Mumbai for UdaipurTimes, gives us an insight on the perceptions that Israel’s apex Tourism body has on this Middle East tourist destination.
What are the new attractions to woo an Indian traveller?
Hassan: Israel is a vibrant and modern country which is rich in diversity and culture offering, enthralling activities and breath-taking attractions for every kind of traveler. Earlier popular for mainly holy land tours, today Indians have gone beyond the pilgrimage trail of Jerusalem and Nazareth and are visiting Israel’s famous cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat and the Dead Sea Region. Israel has a lot to offer in terms of indoor and outdoor adventure, food & wine, romantic getaways as well as a throbbing nightlife. The lesser explored regions of Mount Hermon, naturally occurring grottoes at Rosh Hanikra, or the caves at Beit Guvrin and Ein Gedi are also steadily gaining popularity among Indian travelers.
What activities can an Adventure traveler look for in Israel?
Hassan: There are no limitations to the adventurous activities one can undertake in Israel due to its unique topography.
Jeeping, hiking or biking excursions in Timna National Park, the Red Canyon or Mitzpe Ramon – the world’s largest natural crater – in the Judean Desert are all one-of-a-kind experiences for adventure enthusiasts. Israel National Trail is a hiking path that is approximately 960km (600 miles) which crosses the entire country and would take anywhere from 30 to 70 days to finish. Cycling in the desert is the best. The Nahal Pratzim River Valley Trail provides the ultimate ride on a soft surface with spectacular mountain scenery, and a possible stop in the Flour Cave, a definite thrill as it is spooky white inside.
From December through March, the lower slopes of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights (north) are buzzing with skiers and snowboarders enjoying the snowy mountain trails, a surprise in the Middle East even in winter.
A welcoming treat for adventurers is that the River Jordan has some class 3 to 4 rapids with narrow passages bordered by overhanging trees. If the rapids are too intense, you can always go water-skiing, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling or enjoy a number of water activities all year-round in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee.
You can also go sky diving in Eilat or along the Mediterranean Sea coast in Tel Aviv and HaBonim, where you enjoy a birds’ eye view of Israel. The Red Sea Coast on the southernmost tip in Eilat offers excellent spot to go scuba diving with over 2,500 different species of marine life and 270 types of coral. The Coral Reserve Beach in Eilat extends to around 1.5 kilometres and is a beautiful place to dive. For the more adventurous, off the Village Beach, close to Coral Beach, is the Satil Wreck, a ship wreck diving site which is at a depth of 24 meters.
One can also enjoy a leisurely hot air balloon ride in the Jazreel Valley as you watch the sun rise over the horizon, bringing light to a new day.
Israel is known as top Religious Destination. How is the Religious Tourism different from other Religious Destinations?
Hassan: Holy Land tours or pilgrimage tourism constitutes a major segment of tourists to Israel from India. What sets Israel apart from other religious destinations is the presence of top religious sites of three major religions of the world. Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel houses sacred places of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The ancient old city is encircled by imposing stone walls that date to the Ottoman period and contain within it holy sites of the Western Wall, The Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with many other sites as well.
However, what is also fascinating about Israel is that besides religious tourism, it offers a plethora of other tourist activities like wine tours, desert safaris, Segway tours and a lot more. In that sense, it is more of a ‘holistic’ destination and not just a ‘holy’ destination.
Did the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Israel make any impact on Tourism or Indian tourist footfall?
Hassan: We had a total of 44,672 Indian tourists visiting Israel in 2016 while over 36,000 Indians have already visited Israel from January – August 2017 marking a growth of 37% in Indian tourist arrivals. The historic visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel has sparked a renewed interest among Indians to visit Israel. Also, Israel recorded an exponential growth of 54% in Indian arrivals in August compared to the same month last year.
Also, as stated by Prime Minister Modi during his visit to Israel, we expect to see Air India begin direct flights to Tel Aviv from India as well which we expect will translate to even more Indians travelling to Israel.
What is your current & future marketing strategy to boost tourism?
Hassan: In terms of marketing, we ran our advertising campaign in the first quarter of 2017 on television, digital as well as in print. We created a television commercial customized for the Indian market under the slogan “Begin your Journey to Israel now”, showcasing the some of the sites and attractions of Israel – the modern city of Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, the Baha’i Gardens in the port city of Haifa, the holy city of Jerusalem and more. The integrated media campaign aimed at building awareness about Israel and boosting travel from India.
For the Indian travel trade this year we conducted roadshow in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. In addition to this, we also conducted independent training sessions in other Indian cities and MICE networking evenings with leading companies and travel agents. We also have joint promotions with select trade partners in India to help boost travel.