By Israel Kasnett
Tourism to Israel is on the rise, and if last year’s numbers—4,120,800 million, to be exact—are any indication, this year may prove to be even more successful. While for years, many tourists to Israel arrived from Western countries, the numbers are changing. Now, more tourists from countries in the east, especially China, have discovered Israel, and if this trend continues, Israel’s incoming tourism industry could witness greatly accelerated growth.
With a population of nearly 1.4 billion, China is a gold mine in terms of tourism potential, and Israel has already hopped on the bandwagon. A conference held this week at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel, titled “Made for China,” focused on developing ties between the two countries and finding ways to encourage Chinese tourism to Israel.
Peter Phang, from tourism marketing agency BrandStory, said that to the Chinese, China is considered the “middle” of the world, “so to us,” he joked, “Israel is a Western country.”
He highlighted that some provinces in China have more than 20 million people; thus, the marketing potential Israel has in some of these areas is enormous.
Phang noted that while China is one market and one country, it is also a very big market—as large as Europe. “Some municipalities in China are so large,” he said, they have a GDP “equal to that of Australia. This demonstrates the scale of the Chinese market.”
Incoming tourists from huge countries like China would be a tremendous boon to Israel. The data is showing signs of improvement, and Israel is fast becoming an extremely popular tourist destination. In fact, at the end of last year, international market research firm EuroMonitor named Jerusalem the fastest-growing tourism destination in the world.
Phang emphasized that there “is no one size fits all when it comes to China. You have to do many things to market Israel to the diverse Chinese population.”
Direct flights to Tel Aviv contribute to more visitors
Hainan Airlines, which just launched a new route from Shenzhen, China, to Tel Aviv, also has direct flights to Tel Aviv from Shanghai and Beijing. China Eastern also plans to launch its own direct flight to Tel Aviv, making it the third Chinese airline, including Sichuan Airlines, to offer direct flights to Israel.
This introduction of more flight routes from China to Israel has had a market impact on tourism to Israel and will continue to do so if this trend continues. Israel’s Ministry of Tourism reported a general 14 percent increase in incoming tourism over 2017 and a whopping 42 percent increase over 2016.
The Economic Research Department of the Israel Hotels Association recently published data for February 2019 on hotel stays compared with the same period over the past two years, and the evidence is clear: Incoming tourism to Israel is decidedly on the rise, and Chinese tourists are helping make it happen.
Other speakers also acknowledged the huge potential China holds for Israeli incoming tourism.
Roy Kriezman, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism attaché in Southern China, said “tourism from China to Israel began to rise significantly only in 2016, thanks to new direct flights to Israel that were launched from various regions in China. “The capacity of passengers is huge, and many of the planes still have plenty of room,” he said.
Kriezman noted that there are four main categories of Chinese tourists, all of whom want to discover Israel. The first category includes older, leisure tourists. They have already been to the main cities around the world, and they want to find a new, mysterious and exciting place.
The second category is the millions of Chinese Christians who want to come to Israel on pilgrimage. These are huge groups that can easily take over an entire hotel during their visit. The third category represents the many businessmen and women who arrive in Israel, usually for just a few days. The fourth category includes those who arrive as part of an official delegation.
Kriezman concluded by encouraging everyone, on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, to make efforts in the Chinese market.
Phang recommended to Israeli travel agents and tour operators to “be open.”
Make the connections, exchange ideas with counterparts in China and discover ways to bring more Chinese individuals and families to Israel, he encouraged. He also said businesses need to “invest” or “engage” in dialogue and relationships with tourism-industry representatives in China so that they can better understand the needs of these groups. This collaboration, he hinted, could lead to great success.