(photo credit: KKL)
Everybody knows that KKL-JNF is about land, water and environmental matters, but what does KKL-JNF have to do with tourism? The answer is "everything", as Hannah Bechar, KKL-JNF Projects Coordinator, explained at the International Tourism Fair that took place in Tel Aviv on February 8-9. This year’s fair was the biggest since its inception 17 years ago, with over 300 exhibitors from more than 35 countries. Dozens of tourism organizations from Israel attended, presenting recent tourism innovations and attractions aimed at boosting international and domestic tourism.
"It's the most natural thing in the world for KKL-JNF to have a presence at the tourism fair," Hannah said. "KKL-JNF creates and maintains parks and forests from Israel's northern border to Eilat in the south, so we are important for both international and also domestic tourism, because almost anyone touring Israel will pass through or visit a KKL-JNF site. We were happy to see that since the fair opened Tuesday morning, there has been a non-stop flow of people to the KKL-JNF pavilion."
One of KKL-JNF's most popular tourism initiatives is its "Plant a Tree with Your Own Hands" campaign, which provides tourists the unique experience of planting a tree in the Holy Land. In this way, the tourists have a personal connection to the land and help improve the quality of Israel’s environment. KKL-JNF’s tree planting Centers are conveniently located off major highways, providing easy access to individuals and groups alike. Planters receive a decorative planting certificate and a copy of the Planter’s Prayer.
"In addition to planting trees," Hannah continued, "KKL-JNF's Esther Weinstein recently initiated 'Forester for a Day', in which tourists spend time in the Carmel Forest, where they help to restore it after the fire and also learn about forestry and ecology. In fact, the pilot for this project was just launched this morning, and tourism professionals visiting our pavilion have expressed a lot of interest in this new idea.
"Don't forget that KKL-JNF is also an international organization, with offices in countries all over the world. Tourists visiting Israel who discover KKL-JNF often join their local KKL-JNF chapter back home, and are instrumental in encouraging their friends to join KKL-JNF missions to Israel."
Moshe Shaler, KKL-JNF Director of Community Forests, just returned to Israel from representing KKL-JNF at the United Nations Forum on Forests Conference, and he was already busy at the Tourism Fair: "As we saw at the United Nations, it is very important for KKL-JNF to position itself internationally as an environmental organization. One of our conclusions from the conference is that there is not enough awareness of what KKL-JNF is all about. We have a lot to contribute in various fields, for example, afforestation in semi-arid regions, and since Israel is a society with Jews from all over the world, we operate in a multicultural environment that is fascinating to visitors.
"Tourists to Israel provide us with an opportunity to showcase our expertise and also to enable people to identify Israel with innovative environmental projects, not just with a volatile political situation. We work with tourism companies throughout the country. One of the things tour agents are very interested in is the bicycle trails KKL-JNF has developed throughout Israel. We provide visitors to our pavilion at the fair with lots of promotional and informative material, and we exchange emails so we can keep them updated on KKL-JNF activities. We've been busy every moment since the fair opened."
Andres Lacko, a photographer originally from Argentina, was looking at a map of KKL-JNF sites in Israel, and he had an interesting story to tell: "I am looking for the Bosque Memorial, which was built by KKL-JNF in the area of Modi'im. It is a place of great international significance, because it is the only place outside Argentina where there is a memorial to the Argentineans who 'disappeared' in the 1960s and were actually murdered by the government. It is a very special place for me personally, because I have a cousin who 'disappeared'. Argentineans visiting Israel make a point of visiting the Bosque Memorial. When she was in Israel, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is now the president of Argentina, paid her respects, as did Mercedes Sosa, the famous singer. Argentinean tourists that I speak with are very grateful to KKL-JNF for creating and maintaining this site."
Smadar Efrat heads a company that markets tourism online: "We promote both
internal tourism and tourism from abroad. I was very excited to find a KKL-JNF pavilion here, because I've been wanting to speak with the person responsible for the KKL-JNF website about topics relevant to tourism. I think that KKL-JNF really has a lot to offer to people planning itineraries for people touring Israel."
Part of the KKL-JNF pavilion was devoted to the Hula Lake Park, an internationally acclaimed birding center. Koby Samarno, Hula Lake general manager, was personally on hand to promote the site: "We're at the fair every year. Hula Lake, which is a KKL-JNF project, is one of Israel's most visited sites. Being here gives us an opportunity to meet tourism professionals we work with all year long and to talk about plans for the future, and also to meet new people."
Adi Mashari and Liat Nolman opened "O-live", a new company promoting Bed and Breakfasts, just a half a year ago: "O-live has a specifically green agenda, we're interested in what's known as 'eco-tourism'. Our concept is to encourage people staying in B&Bs to get to know the nature sites in the areas they are staying in, so KKL-JNF is critical to our vision. We're interested in activities in nature organized by KKL-JNF, bicycle routes, tree planting, and so on. I don't think there's one B&B anywhere in Israel that doesn't have an interesting KKL-JNF site nearby for our customers to visit," Adi concluded. The steady stream of visitors to the KKL-JNF pavilion couldn't have said it better.
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