Israeli, Iranian tourism ministers meet

Iranian booth manager at international tourism fair invites Misezhnikov to visit Islamic republic.

Meseznikov (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov was in Madrid on Wednesday toformally open the Israeli exhibit at the International Tourism TradeFair. While there he met, talked and shook hands with his Iraniancounterpart.

"As opposed to the cold reaction I received from the Syrianrepresentatives when I approached their stall, the Iranians came out togreet me," said Meseznikov in a phone interview from Madrid.

"While the Syrians turned their backs to us and made it clearthat we were not welcome, the Iranian exhibit manager shook my handwarmly and gave me a tour of the Iranian booth and told me about thesites they had on display. He then invited me, informally of course, tovisit Iran so that I would get a chance to see the archeological sitesand ancient cities first-hand. I told him I sincerely hoped I and therest of the citizens of Israel would have the opportunity to visitIran, provided the relationship between our countries allows for it."

Meseznikov stressed that the Iranians knew that they werespeaking to Israeli officials. "They didn't hide or scurry away, theyremained and talked to us pleasantly."

Meseznikov said that he also had the chance to meet and shakehands with the Iranian tourism minister, Hamid Baghaei, when therepresentatives of all the participating countries took part in aformal ceremony and the two stood next to each other.

"I introduced myself and we shook hands and talked for awhile," said the minister. "I've always said that tourism, which tendsto stress the positive over the negative and shows the pleasant side ofthe region, can be a bridge for peace."

During the event, Meseznikov also had a chance to meet with hisPalestinian counterpart. He said that they had a very nice conversationand that she had accepted his invitation to visit him in Jerusalem.

"We cooperate with the Palestinians on several joint tourismprojects 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 inSpain to oversee the Israeli delegation to the world's largest tourismtrade 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 biggestoperators in the business and being here gives us a great opportunityto present the Israeli tourism product to the rest of the world," hesaid.

The Israeli exhibit covers 380 square meters and is manned byrepresentatives of the Tourism Ministry and Israeli airlines as well astravel agents and hoteliers. Among the items on exhibit is a displayfeaturing 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 countrylike Spain, which has the potential to send many pilgrims and touriststo Israel," said Meseznikov. "It is important to leverage the Pope'svisit to Israel last year to draw in more and more tourists."