(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov was in Madrid on Wednesday to
formally open the Israeli exhibit at the International Tourism Trade
Fair. While there he met, talked and shook hands with his Iranian
"As opposed to the cold reaction I received from the Syrian
representatives when I approached their stall, the Iranians came out to
greet me," said Meseznikov in a phone interview from Madrid.
"While the Syrians
turned their backs to us and made it clear
that we were not welcome, the Iranian exhibit manager shook my hand
warmly and gave me a tour of the Iranian booth and told me about the
sites they had on display. He then invited me, informally of course, to
visit Iran so that I would get a chance to see the archeological sites
and ancient cities first-hand. I told him I sincerely hoped I and the
rest of the citizens of Israel would have the opportunity to visit
Iran, provided the relationship between our countries allows for it."
Meseznikov stressed that the Iranians knew that they were
speaking to Israeli officials. "They didn't hide or scurry away, they
remained and talked to us pleasantly."
Meseznikov said that he also had the chance to meet and shake
hands with the Iranian tourism minister, Hamid Baghaei, when the
representatives of all the participating countries took part in a
formal ceremony and the two stood next to each other.
"I introduced myself and we shook hands and talked for a
while," said the minister. "I've always said that tourism, which tends
to stress the positive over the negative and shows the pleasant side of
the region, can be a bridge for peace."
During the event, Meseznikov also had a chance to meet with his
Palestinian counterpart. He said that they had a very nice conversation
and that she had accepted his invitation to visit him in Jerusalem.
"We cooperate with the Palestinians on several joint tourism
projects as well as in the bid to have the Dead Sea make it in to the
'New 7 Wonders of Nature' competition," said Meseznikov.
Aside from taking part in informal diplomacy, Meseznikov was in
Spain to oversee the Israeli delegation to the world's largest tourism
trade show, which will be taking place over the next three days.
Meseznikov said his ministry sees it as an important venue to reach out to the Spanish and Latin American market.
"The participants in the trade show are some of the biggest
operators in the business and being here gives us a great opportunity
to present the Israeli tourism product to the rest of the world," he
The Israeli exhibit covers 380 square meters and is manned by
representatives of the Tourism Ministry and Israeli airlines as well as
travel agents and hoteliers. Among the items on exhibit is a display
featuring a copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a voting booth for the
"New 7 Wonders of Nature" competition.
Following the trade show, Meseznikov will travel to Portugal to sign a bilateral tourism agreement.
"It is important for us to have a presence in a Catholic country
like Spain, which has the potential to send many pilgrims and tourists
to Israel," said Meseznikov. "It is important to leverage the Pope's
visit to Israel last year to draw in more and more tourists."