(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In an attempt to attract more Chinese vacationers to Israel, the government has eliminated fees for tour groups from the country.
This latest move follows a March 29 agreement between Israel and China, which allows for 10-year, multiple entry visas to visitors from each country to the other. The Tourism Ministry announced the latest changes on Wednesday, with the support of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority and the Finance Ministry.
“The approval of the 10-year multiple entry visa and the cancellation of fees for Chinese tourist groups are important steps that join other marketing steps to break into the Chinese market,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.
These and other activities spearheaded by the Tourism Ministry “will lead to an increase in the number of tourists arriving in Israel from China and will contribute to realizing the tourism potential from this region,” Levin added.
The mutual visa extension agreement enables Chinese and Israeli citizens to obtain 10-year tourist visas for multiple, individual visits of up to 90 days each.
Up until now, the visas had only been issued for three-month periods. The governments have also reduced visa wait time for Israelis to no longer than three days, and have allowed Chinese tourist groups to add names of travelers during the day prior to their departure to Israel, the ministry said.
As far as the issue of group fees is concerned, tour operators in China formerly had to pay a visa tariff of NIS 35 per person traveling in a group to Israel, in addition to paying handling charges to private operators, according to the ministry. These supplemental costs became “a significant bureaucratic and financial obstacle in organizing tourist groups from China to Israel,” a Tourism Ministry statement said.
“The cancellation of this fee will lead to an increase in the public coffers, given the expected increase in the numbers of tourists visiting Israel from China as a result,” the statement added.
Bringing in more Chinese vacationers is particularly valuable to Israel, as their average spending per traveler is the highest among tourists to the country – $1,947 per visit, as opposed to the average of $1,600, according to data from the Tourism Ministry’s Annual Inbound Tourism Survey.
Levin has made China a central target in Tourism Ministry operations, taking a variety of steps to boost incoming tourist numbers from the country, the ministry said. Among other activities, Levin worked with Hainan Airlines, the largest private airline in China, to begin operating the company’s direct route from Beijing to Tel Aviv in April. In addition, the hotel industry is now adapting to meet the needs of Chinese tourists, and the ministry has opened a Chinese language course for tour guides in Israel.
From 2014 to 2015, incoming visitors from China to Israel increased by 43 percent to 47,000, and by 86% from 2013 to 2015, Tourism ministry data said. In the first half of 2016, numbers increased by 45% in comparison to the first half of 2015, and by 82% in comparison to the first half of 2014. The Tourism Ministry hopes to see 100,000 Chinese tourists coming in annually by 2018.
Like Levin, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri stressed the importance of removing any bureaucratic obstacles in the way of bolstering Chinese tourism to Israel.
“China is a most important country and we are working on a new track with the Chinese government,” Deri said. “These are procedures that will greatly assist both Israeli and Chinese tourism and will significantly contribute to bi-lateral relations and the economy of both countries.”