Explore Israel, the ‘fun country’

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Israel is a fun country, says Israeli Ambassador Alon Ushpiz, with his eye firmly on adventurous Indian tourists who are looking to quench their appetite for wanderlust.

“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 at a recent tourism event in the Indian capital.

He unveiled ambitious plans to set up a fully operational Israeli tourism promotion office in Mumbai to woo Indian vacationers and strengthen the bond between people of the two countries. The facility is expected to help boost Indian tourists’ arrivals in his country that hosted nearly 100,000 visitors from the South Asian country in 2012. A tie-up between the national carriers of the two countries for better connectivity is also on the discussion table. “The Israeli Ministry of Tourism is in the advanced stages of opening a fully operational tourism promotion office in Mumbai,” said the envoy.

The envoy rhapsodised about myriad attractions of Israel. “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,” he said.

Underlining cultural chemistry between India and Israel, the envoy said Israel, with its open and democratic society, was similar to India in its political ethos and a mesmerizing blend of cultures, religions, beliefs, traditions and ways of life. The Bedouin desert safaris and the traditional cuisines are ere also big draws.

The envoy added that Israel’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.

He said his country aimed to increasingly attract Indian tourists. Israel and India had also signed a memorandum of understanding to boost bilateral ties in the tourism sector.

One of the beautiful facets of Indian culture is the importance it places on hospitality and treatment of guests, including strangers, he said. “The spirit of welcoming tourists is expressed in the ancient Hindi saying ‘Athiti devo bhava (A guest is God)’”. He recalled an Israeli adage that “whoever knocks on your door, you are to open the door and embrace him.” In Jewish tradition, the concept of ‘Hachnasat Orchim’ – showing hospitality to a stranger – is one of the key components of Jewish identity.

The envoy added that Israel’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.

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 two countries are exploring the possibility of tie-ups between their national carriers to reach out to state capitals and smaller cities.

“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.


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