By REVITAL ARANBAEV
Do you speak fluent Chinese and Hebrew? Are you familiar with sites of historical interest in the Holy Land? Are you looking for an exciting outdoor job? If so, contact the Tourism Ministry, quickly.
In June of this year, for the first time, the People's Republic of China placed Israel on its list of preferred destinations. Now thousands of eager Chinese tourists are on their way here, a situation that has caught local tourism officials offguard.
The Tourism Ministry has only four licensed tour guides qualified to accompany the thousands of Chinese tourists expected to descend on the country in the coming months. Three of the guides are Chinese nationals living here and one is an Israeli who has spent time in China and is fluent in the language.
There are currently no Chinese-language tourism pamphlets and maps available to hand out to the new visitors. Plans for pamphlets, and other promotional material, are hastily being put together.
"The Tourism Ministry does not see the language barrier as a problem," said Jonathan Pulik, foreign press adviser for the Tourism Ministry.
Speaking at a news conference convened in Jerusalem on Tuesday about the rise in Chinese tourism to Israel, Chinese officials said China placed Israel on its "preferred destination" list due to its "desire to enhance relations with Israel."
According to the officials, there was a large decrease in Chinese tourism to Israel between 2000-2003. Chinese tourists have started coming back in greater numbers since the end of 2003, even before Israel was placed on the list.
According to Pulik, there were 9,848 Chinese tourists in Israel in 2000. That number dropped to 6,277 in 2001. In 2002 only 2,605 Chinese visited Israel for its tourist sites. The lowest point came in 2003, when only 1,897 Chinese tourists arrived. In 2004, the figure rose to 3,000.
Pulik would not estimate the number of Chinese tourists expected in the coming months when the Chinese vacation season starts, but said it would be "a couple of thousand more."
Sources close to the Chinese tourism industry told The Jerusalem Post this week that Israel has to still tackle the major obstacle of providing Chinese tourists with information literature they can understand for a smooth visit to Israel.
According to the sources, a lot more work needs to be done to assure the visitors that the language barrier will not be an issue. The sources added that Israeli tourism officials should also be aware of the difference in customs between the Chinese and Israeli peoples.
"The Tourism Ministry is doing everything we see fit, to cater to any possible need of the travelers," said Pulik.
Deborah Mantzur, director of the Department of Professional Training in the Tourism Ministry, says the ministry is looking for Israeli students currently learning Chinese.
In order to become a licensed tour guide a person must take a year-long tour-guide course followed by a government examination [administered by the Tourism Ministry]. It is a requirement to be a resident of Israel to apply as a tour guide.