Mumbai: Amir Halevi, Director General, Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT) was in India recently and briefed media on the various activities being undertaken to grow the market. He was accompanied at the press meet by Sara Salansky, Senior Department Manager, Marketing, IMOT; Samy Yahia, Director, Tourism, India & Philippines Offices, IMOT and Vritikka Kapur, PR Manager, IMOT India.

IMOT has had a presence in India for five years now primarily targeting Christian pilgrims, and offering high-end luxury, leisure and MICE products as well. 70,000 Indians visited Israel in 2019. This is the first time more Indians are travelling that side compared to the Israelis visiting India at 60,000.

In view of the increase in passenger traffic on the Tel Aviv-New Delhi sector, India’s official carrier Air India will double the number of flights on the route to six per week from April. Air India created history by becoming the first commercial flight to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia and Oman in March 2018. The access to Saudi and Omani airspace shortens the flight path by almost two hours which lowers the fuel cost leading to a reduction in fares.

“For many years we have positioned Israel as the Holy Land and the arrival numbers were steady. But when we started talking about Israel as a leisure & business destination, numbers started growing,” said Halevi. “We have perfect weather most of the year and the crime rate is almost zero.”

The average length of stay of Indian guests is about 8-9 days. Israel is a rather small country (just 7 hours from north to south) and IMOT is promoting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, cities just 35 minutes apart thanks to the new high-speed train. Jerusalem is an ideal hub to explore other sought after places in Israel – one hour away is Dead Sea; 40 min far is Nazareth; 90 min drive is Sea of Galilee.

Israel has varied experiences to offer: Ski in the north; four seas: Dead Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Sea of Galilee and Red Sea; Desert; Night life; Food; Adventure.

“We can easily double India numbers very soon,” added Salansky confidently. Currently, around 30 per cent of global traffic is pilgrims. However, due to IMOT’s campaigns to promote other aspects of Israel, the ratios are changing. Especially in India where pilgrims contributed more than 50 per cent in 2019, leisure and business segments will grow further this year to close at 50:50.

IMOT is aggressively marketing Israel as a MICE and wedding destination. “These two were not a focal point for us but yes from now on they are,” confirmed Yahia. IMOT has conducted FAM trips for corporate buyers from key industries like pharma, BFSI, tech and steel. An incentive group of 1000 pax has been confirmed for November. A campaign for attracting wedding tourism will be launched soon.

In January 2020, IMOT decided to add India to its ‘always on’ digital campaign. Earlier, digital campaigns in India were undertaken in waves.

For travel agents, a basic training program is already underway and an advanced program, Israel Specialist will start soon.