The Israel government, still reeling from a drop-off in visitors following last summer’s war with Gaza, is betting on China to jump-start the nation’s flagging tourism industry.
While visits to Israel from the United States and Europe have plummeted by almost 20 percent since the conflict, Chinese tourism is up by 30 percent, because of a flurry of investments by the Israeli Tourism Ministry to make Chinese visitors feel welcome.
In January, the Tourism Ministry opened a Chinese-language course for its licensed guides and announced that it was in talks with Hainan Airlines, the largest privately owned Chinese air carrier, to begin three nonstop flights a week between Beijing and Tel Aviv. Israel’s El Al airlines currently has a monopoly on Beijing-Tel Aviv flights, so an agreement with Hainan Airlines, which Israel hopes to finalize by the end of 2015, will bring price competition to the route.
The ministry is also wooing Chinese celebrities to its shores — in 2014, the Chinese blockbuster "Old Cinderella" filmed a number of scenes in Israel after receiving a 500,000-shekel investment from the Israeli government, and the Chinese actor Liu Ye was hosted by the Tourism Ministry and deemed a Tourism Good Will Ambassador.
The private tourism sector is also angling for Chinese visitors: This month the David InterContinental Tel Aviv hotel will become the first in Israel to offer Mandarin-speaking staffers, two Mandarin-language TV channels in guest rooms and Chinese food options at their lush breakfast buffet.
Israel’s tourism minister, Yariv Levin, said that he is working to ease visa requirements for incoming tourists from China and to build partnerships with Chinese tour operators.
"The State of Israel attaches great importance to incoming tourism from China, and as a result, the Tourism Ministry intends to place special emphasis on China as a developing market," he said.