The number of Chinese tourists entering Israel is beginning to recover after a steep decline earlier this year, based on the latest figures from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.
Some 8,400 Chinese tourists traveled to Israel last month, compared to 9,200 in September of last year. From January through September of this year, 73,900 tourists from China visited Israel–an eight percent decrease over the same period last year, but a 38% rise over 2016. Overall, Chinese travel to the Holy Land has more than doubled since 2015, with some 114,000 people from the Asian country visiting Israel last year.
However, in the beginning of 2018 the number of Chinese travelers dropped sharply when the Chinese government issued a travel advisory following the United States’ announcement that it would relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last December. The Tourism Ministry also attributed the slight decrease to the ongoing unrest along the Gaza-Israel border.
The Tourism Ministry expects this trend to reverse by the end of the year, thanks to new direct flight routes between Israel and China, as well as an Israeli government marketing initiative targeting Chinese travelers.
“China is a growing market,” Sofia Prizant-Pinkas, director of the Asian Department at the Ministry of Tourism, told The Media Line. “Chinese outbound tourism is growing every year so it’s a strategic market for Israel and for others.
“A few years ago, we understood that we have to be fitted for Chinese tourists in order for them to feel welcome,” Prizant-Pinkas affirmed, noting the ministry is pushing for more Mandarin-speaking tour guides, as well as providing Israeli chefs with training on how to cater to the Chinese palate.
Others working in the tourism sector, like Dragon Trail Interactive—a digital marketing agency geared towards the Chinese travel sector—also noted rising interest among the Chinese for trips to Israel.
“There’s been a significant increase in Chinese tourism to destinations all over the world in the last 10-15 years,” Roy Graff, managing director in Europe, Africa and Middle East for Dragon Trail Interactive, told The Media Line. “It has been really good in Israel.”
Chinese tourists visit Israel primarily for three reasons: to explore Tel Aviv’s thriving hi-tech scene; to see landmarks like the Dead Sea, and to tour Jerusalem’s holy sites.
“Although we just arrived, I feel that Jerusalem has a very long history, similar to that of our people,” Meng Linjun, a tourist from Beijing with Genesis Tours, told The Media Line. While standing at the entrance to the Old City, he added: “The Chinese people also have a very long history so we would like to learn more about the story of Israel.”
Meng and his partner, Jiao Feng Yuan, were on a sightseeing tour of Jerusalem’s most popular sites. They visited the Mount of Olives and Yad Vashem (Israel’s national holocaust memorial), among other sites.
“I’ve traveled to many places but this country is unlike any other I’ve been to,” Jiao declared. “The ancient history is something I find particularly interesting. Jewish history goes back thousands of years, so I’m fascinated with that aspect and also with the return of the Jewish people to Israel in modern times.”
Part of the increase in Chinese tourism to Israel is due to a growing number of Christians in China. Christianity is reportedly the fastest-growing religion there and some estimate that by 2030 the country could be the largest Christian nation (with 247 million adherents). In recent years, President Xi Jingping’s government has begun to crack down on the religion, with authorities demolishing unofficial churches and removing crosses. The Chinese Communist Party has declared atheism China’s official state religion.
“We see more and more Christian people coming to Israel,” Re’em Raizner, CEO of Shin Luxury Tours, told The Media Line. “Christianity is spreading in China and Chinese Christians find Israel a very interesting place to visit.”
Tour guides working around Israel agreed that Christian pilgrims make up a significant portion of those making the voyage to the Holy Land.
“I have many different kinds of groups: some are Christian pilgrims, some just really love the Jewish people so they come to show us their support, and others come for business,” Terry Melnikov, an independent tour guide, conveyed to The Media Line. “Many Chinese believe that Israelis are smart and that we possess some knowledge they can benefit from.”
Tour operators also attribute the growing tourism to recently opened direct flight routes between the two countries. Last August, Hainan Airlines announced a new route between Guangzhou and Tel Aviv, on top of already existing routes between Beijing, Shanghai and Israel. In September, Sichuan Airlines launched a new direct route, which greatly shortens travel times and is part of the Israeli government’s campaign to encourage incoming Chinese tourism.
Overall, Israel is experiencing a record-breaking year in the tourism sector, with more than 2.9 million visitors to the country from January to September, a 15% increase over the same period last year. Tourism generates billions of dollars for the Israeli economy. And with the help of Chinese tourists, this number is likely to reach even more dizzying heights in years to come.
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