Interview with Hassan Madah, Israel Tourism
Over 34,000 Indians visited Israel in the first seven months of 2017
India is one of the most impressive growth markets for Israel Tourism at the moment. Over 34,000 Indians had already visited Israel in the first seven months of 2017, marking a growth of 36 pc.
How has the Indian market been for Israel Tourism in the past few years?
This growth of 36 pc is not a sudden thing. We already took a decision five years ago to open a tourism office in India. In the last two years, we did a lot of activities, we engaged with the trade initially, in order to have packages to Israel. Then we did major campaigns last year, and because of all these activities and efforts of the ministry, more Indian agents are promoting packages to Israel. Now, more Israelis are coming to India also in order to engage with the local industry, to promote the destinations. The visit of Prime Minister Modi helped us a lot in order to put Israel on the list of the people as a tourist destination and of course do more business.
Flight connectivity seems to be a challenge, with only Mumbai and New Delhi being connected. Does this impact the growth?
We are seeing the growth without having any additional flight.So, the solutions are there, people can stop, do one stop and reach Israel. For example, you can fly from New Delhi or Mumbai and you will reach Israel using the Gulf carriers, land in Oman or Jordan, and then cross the border to Israel, because it’s a very short distance. People are flying even to Europe and then coming to Tel Aviv. If people really want to come, they will find a way. Of course, if you facilitate, you will see more numbers. I think when Air India would start flying in the next couple of months, we would see more people coming because they will connect Kolkata directly to the flight and they will connect other cities as well.
How is Israel’s offer as a tourism experience compare with the popular destinations visited by the Indians?
As a unique experience we have the Dead Sea, where you can float, you don’t need to know swimming. You can have a once in a lifetime experience by visiting Jerusalem and actually see the place where Jesus was crucified. You have the craters in Israel that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. The topography of the country is such that you don’t have to travel much in order to see something different and new. You can see snow in Mount Hermon and within one hour you can be in a lake or in the Sea of Galilee.
Could you please elaborate on the cultural aspects that probably may attract more Indians?
Many feel that Hinduism is ancient, but so is Judaism. People of both the countries feel that we have a very ancient history and heritage;hence there must be some connection between the two. If you go to Israel, you will see that Indians are very welcome there.When Israelis see Indians, they start talking about their trips in India and how they travelled from New Delhi to Manali or to Goa or to Hampi. They would tell you about all the experiences and all the places they travelled to.
What kind of food is available in Israel for Indians?
There are two things, Indians trying the Israeli, Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern food and Indians looking for Indian food in Israel. Both are well taken care of. When it comes to the Indian food in Israel, we had few restaurants earlier, but now, in the last couple of years,many Indian restaurants have opened in Israel. Many Israeli chefs are opening restaurants in Israel and serving Indian cuisine. Also, when Indians travel to Israel, they want vegetarian or Jain food. Now in Israel, we don’t have much vegetarian options of Israeli food. Hence, the Indians prefer the vegetarian food as we know and as we have. But more and more vegetarian and vegan restaurants are coming up as well.
How are you trying to tap the Bollywood film tourism market?
When it comes to Bollywood, the film industry, we are encouraging the film production houses to go to Israel. We have amazing places and we as Ministry of Tourism will help in whatever capacity we can. This segment, I think, should be explored more by us.
What is the scenario in MICE segment?
In terms of MICE, specially the incentives and exhibitions, Indians go all the time. We have hi-tech exhibitions, where hi-tech industry professionals from India visit. Attendance in medical conferences is also very strong from India to Israel. We encourage lots of corporate companies to travel in groups to Israel. We are working towards improving our MICE segment while continuing our focus on existing segments using different mediums, including investing in advertising campaigns and continuing to build and strengthen our travel trade relationships in the Indian market.
Have you targeted the Indian wedding planners?
Till now we have not targeted the Indian wedding planners or the clientele as such. Though we are very strong in the luxury market, we have not served the Indians in large numbers. We are working towards that. We will be coming up with our plans to promote weddings in Israel, we know it will happen – honeymooners are already going there. We have the facilities to host Indian weddings. It’s not about the facilities. It’s just that the market should be tapped and the awareness should be raised that this thing can happen in Israel.
How flexible is the process for obtaining visa for Indians?
You have two options of visa to travel to Israel. First,it could be an individual visa, where you apply for it to the office and you get it. The second option is group visa for 10 and above persons. The agent can take care of this part. If all of your documents are in place, then it is very easy to get the visa within a few days. We are also trying to work out that if you have a valid U.S. or Schengen visa, then you may get your visa either on arrival or online. I think it’s very important to have easy visa. We have seen that this encourages and boosts tourism.
What is your promotion plan? How do you plan to integrate social media in your promotions?
India is one of the world’s fastest growing outbound tourism markets and an important emerging market for us. Keeping that in mind, we have increased our investments heavily in India. We are certain that our continued efforts in targeting the Indian holiday planners through our specially designed advertising campaign for India – ‘Begin your journey to Israel now’ – will yield even better results by the year end. We do regular campaigns through our PR activities, participate in trade shows,conduct our own road shows and innovate other activities that we feel will bring awareness to the people. We do collaborations with brands. I feel that the more you speak about the place, the more you are out and the more you connect with the people and explain about the destination and take any misconception away from their minds; they will be more open to travel.We do have plans to integrate social media and digital platforms more strongly in the coming years.
Is there any challenge that you would like to highlight?
The first challenge for us is, the lack of awareness. And the second challenge is flights. I wish we had more flights. And there is a challenge of misconceptions: ‘if I visit Israel, I can’t visit some other countries in the region’ – this is incorrect. Many tourists enter from Israel to Jordan and to Egypt and then they go to the Gulf region or to other countries.But I think, most of the destinations face some or the other challenges, and we have to know how to deal with that and move ahead.