During May 18-24, the Israel Ministry of Tourism hosted three German-speaking travel trade journalists in Israel on a trip arranged by the hosting department of the Israel Government Tourist Office, Berlin, that included visits to tourist sites in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, as well as meetings with tourism professionals.

“The travel agency industry in Germany is flourishing, with around 11,000 travel agents across the country,” says Director of the Israel Government Tourist Office, Berlin, Uri Sharon. “As part of our ongoing objective to increase incoming tourism to Israel from Berlin, Austria and Switzerland, we are offering educational programs to travel agents to equip them with expert knowledge of the Israel tourist product. This trip will help spread the message further to key players in the trade.” Compared to last April, incoming visitors to Israel increased by 67% from Germany, 76% from Austria and 50% from Switzerland, with all three countries also showing an increase in numbers from January to April 2017, compared to this period last year. “Our marketing budget has increased for 2017 by over 30%, and we have been more active in PR coverage and social media,” explains Sharon. “Specifically, the Two Cities, One Break campaign is working well, evident from the continual increase in tourist numbers to Israel from across the whole of Europe.”

Hein Vogel, Editor Special Projects,
Touristik Aktuell, Germany
“The aim of this trip for me was to find solid recommendations for agencies to sell to their clients; opportunities that are new or unique, and the culmination of experiences across both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem tied in well with our stop at the Dead Sea. 90 weekly flights operate across all carriers from Germany to Israel and travel agents have reported changes as to the types of clients traveling into the country,” outlines Vogel. “It was once around 80 percent of incoming visitors on pilgrim or religious tours, but this has changed; individuals are looking for other opportunities and activities throughout the country.”

“I visited Tel Aviv more than 10 years ago and could not believe the changes that have taken place over that decade. It has evolved tremendously, full of young people and activity, from its food and flea markets, to music and fine dining, all within a modern backdrop,“ identifies Vogel. “Besides Tel Aviv, another of my highlights was visiting Kibbutz Ein Gedi and experiencing it first hand, learning about how it operates and engages with locals.“ He also states:“Israel as a destination is changing. Once frequented solely for the purpose of religion, there are many more opportunities now available to combine tours and experience the country‘s aspects from the North all the way to the South. The country may face competition from Europe, but it has a special charm that will appeal to many and entice people to visit.“

“Boutique hotels are a growing market that will attract a different type of visitor, and there is certainly enough hotel room capacity to meet the needs of a growing incoming market,” remarks Vogel. “There is also an opportunity to reach other clients, for example those on cruises. I recently learned that over 50% of cruise passengers to Israel intend to return, so it’s another market with strong potential.”

Dr. Sonja Rasch-Lesjak, Correspondent and
Freelance Editor, Traveler, Austria
“Israel has changed in many ways since my last trip to the country over 20 years ago. There are so many new possibilities that were not here before, and it is my intention to find out what they are and inform agents of the opportunities now for visitors traveling to Israel,” says Rasch-Lesjak. “I also want to promote combining religious tours with other experiences that delve deeper into the country. Those on returning religious trips, who visited meaningful sites in the past, can expand their travels within Israel and book onto other tours that showcase its different aspects. It’s an important step in encouraging visitors to return.”

“Masada is an experience like no other. It’s a perfect combination of history, authenticity and incredible scenery,” remarks Rasch-Lesjak. “The kibbutz tour at Ein Gedi was another example of a local experience that is unique to Israel, something you simply can’t find anywhere else in the world. The same goes for Jaffa, a culturally significant region for many and a perfect example of a place where you can feel, look and breathe in local history at every turn. You can really do anything in Israel! The opportunities are there in the plenty!”

Erna Jonsdottir, Freelance Editor,
Travel Inside, Switzerland
“This is my first visit to Israel, and I can already say that the whole country is a highlight. You really feel its soul and enjoy its relaxed pace; it’s a feeling I have yet to experience anywhere else. The warmth and openness spill out onto the streets, in artist’s stores, restaurants and everywhere else you go; it’s a special vibe that you can only explain from personally being here,” says Jonsdottir. “I have a lot of gay friends who visit Tel Aviv regularly, especially for pride week, and I can now understand the appeal. From the vibe of Tel Aviv to the history of Masada and the cultural aspects of Jerusalem, there is just so much meaningful culture throughout every pocket of the country.”

“The hype to travel to Israel is big in Switzerland, a combination of cultural appeal, cheaper flights and strong marketing impressions from the Two Cities, One Break campaign,” explains Jonsdottir. “The country is marketed well as a place of unique discoveries, which I have seen for myself.”