Tourism minister: 'Tourists are the ones who can truly make peace'

"We expect to see 100,000 tourists from the Emirates soon."

Tourism Panel Discussion - Seizing the moment as opportunity knocks
The Abraham Accords are creating a new reality where tourism can help bridge boundaries between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said at the UAE-Israel Peace and Prosperity Roundtable discussion on Wednesday, presented by The Khaleej Times and The Jerusalem Post.
“Governments can sign contracts of normalization, but it takes people to truly make peace,” she said.
“We have been hearing about tremendous interest from the UAE side,” she said. “We expect to see 100,000 tourists from the Emirates soon.”
Farkash-Hacohen noted that with Israel leading the world in coronavirus vaccinations, it is looking forward to welcoming tourists.
“The prime minister has said that most adults in Israel will be vaccinated by the end of March,” she said. “We hope we will have a date that we can set as the target for opening everything up. Maybe March or April, definitely by May.”
Israel is a place that offers everything, including history, business and the birthplace of the three major religions, Farkash-Hacohen said. Tel Aviv is a technology capital of the Middle East, and looks forward to hosting tourists looking for opportunities in renewable energy and other tech sectors, she added.  
Emirati tourists who want to visit al-Aqsa Mosque will be safe, despite perceptions to the contrary, Farkash-Hacohen said.
“Visitors of all religions visit al-Aqsa every day, and everyone is very safe,” she said. “There is nothing new about tourists visiting. We welcome everyone, naturally and respectfully.”
Meanwhile, in a panel discussion on tourism, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said she is preparing the capital for Emirati tourism.
“We are working on developing a perfect product for tourists from the Gulf,” she said, noting that 40% of Jerusalem’s residents speak Arabic.
In addition, Hassan-Nahoum noted, normalization will open Dubai not only to tourists from Israel, but also Jewish travelers from North America and elsewhere. There may even be a time when a Gulf visit becomes a standard part of Jewish group trips, the way a visit to Eastern Europe is now, she said.
Hassan-Nahoum founded the UAE-Israel Business Council several months before the UAE-Israel normalization deal was announced in August.
“I could feel something was coming, but I didn’t know how soon,” she said. “We are here to connect people, and then let the free market do its work.”
The council now has more than 3,000 members, she noted.
Adel Ahmad al-Redha, chief operating officer of Emirates Airlines, said that the opening of travel between the two countries will provide an opportunity to connect Tel Aviv with 140 cities that Emirates Airlines flies to, opening up Dubai Airport as a point of connection for Israelis with the East.
Avishesha Bhojani, founder of the BPG Group, noted that normalization provides the opportunity for each side to learn from each other.
“Dubai is an exceptional destination for every type of tourism, but it is a world leader in global luxury tourism,” and Israel will learn how to improve in that niche, he said.