In America, the Jewish people are well known for their love of Chinese food, soon, we’ll find out if this cultural exchange works in the opposite direction.
Israel now is looking to China and India to help drive tourism, Israeli Tourism Ministry Director-General Amir Halevi told Reuters on Thursday.
During the six-week 2014 Gaza war with Palestinian militants Israel’s main airport near Tel Aviv was briefly shut after a missile fell nearby. Scenes of Israelis fleeing into shelters as rockets from Gaza rained down on them caused many tourists to cancel their vacation plans. In 2015, tourism in Israel fell 3% to 3.1 million.
Yet, even as total tourists fell, tourism from China grew 43% with about 50,000 visitors last year. The ministry expects that to double by 2018 and hit 200 million by 2020. A big reason is that starting next month Hainan Airlines will run nonstop flights to Tel Aviv from Beijing, sending an additional 35,000 airline seats to Israel each year.
“This will change the game,” Halevi told Reuters. “The price of tickets will go down 50%.” Israeli carrier El Al already flies nonstop to China.
Halevi said Chinese interest in Israel is growing. Just this week, Israel became the third country after the US and Canada to agree to a 10-year multiple visa deal with China. In this month’s Jerusalem Marathon, there were 170 people from China — up from 6 last year.
In 2016, Israel will also make a push into India, whose tourism to Israel rose 13% last year to nearly 40,000. The ministry targets 80,000-100,000 in 2018.
Tourism is a major growth engine for Israel, accounting for 2.5% of gross domestic product. The tourism industry employs about 200,000 employees, or 3% of Israel’s workforce and adds more than 40 billion shekels ($11 billion) a year into the economy, The US provides the most tourists, about 20% of the tourist market, followed by Russia, France, Germany and Britain.
Halevi played down the impact on tourism of Palestinian stabbing attacks in the last five months. Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and two U.S. citizens in knife, car-ramming or gun assaults. At least 190 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces.