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‘India has been a ‘must watch’ market for the world’ : Sammy Yahia, Director - India & Philippines, Israel Ministry of Tourism

Sammy Yahia, Director of Israel Ministry of Tourism, India & Philippines talks about the importance of the India market and recent initiatives taken by Israel Tourism

The demand for outbound tourism from the Indian subcontinent will continue to increase this year.  Travellers have started to slow down and immerse themselves in the culture of the destination they are exploring, enhancing their experiences, and adopting aspects of the culture as their own, and we feel like this trend will continue to grow. 

With uncertainty still prevailing, how do you see 2022 for outbound travel? Do you foresee a significant demand from India market? Any new trend in terms of international travel?

Tourism is one of the most dynamic industries which is constantly changing. India has been a ‘must watch’ market for the world where tourism is always evolving.  In the past years, there has been an increase in demand from Indian tourists to visit short-haul destinations.  Over the years, we have noticed changes in the travel trends, with travellers becoming more selective about the destinations they visit to enhance their overall experience.

Do you foresee India still featuring amongst your top priority markets post Pandemic?

Though the pandemic has caused significant changes for many of us, the demand amongst Indians for Israel as a tourism destination remains.  We strongly believe that once the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 situation begin to ease more permanently, there will be a demand for travel to Israel.  The signing of the Abraham Accords and normalisation of ties with some of the Arab League nations as well as hosting the 70th Miss Universe Competition in Eilat last month has created more of a demand for Israel.  We plan to use all marketing tools at our disposal to promote tourism to Israel as well as a 360-advertising campaign across digital platforms, print, OOH, television etc. when we are ready to accept tourists from the Indian subcontinent again.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2022?

The travel industry has experienced many changes over the past 2 years due to the pandemic.  We have observed the changes in the travel trends among Indians through our partners and travellers, many of whom have approached us directly with queries on the opening of Israel to the Indian traveller.

We plan to continue using all marketing tools at our disposal to promote tourism to Israel, including but not limited to a 360-advertising campaign across digital platforms, print, OOH, television etc.  We will continue to host virtual meetings, webinars, presentations and interactive events with our partners to keep them upraised on the developments in Israel. 

Any new updates in terms of attractions or tourism infrastructure upgrade in the destination?

Over the last couple of years, Israel has seen many changes and updates to its tourism infrastructure.  In the next two years, new hotel brands including world renowned Nobu, Soho House, Mandarin Oriental and Six Senses are expected to open in Israel, increasing the total number of rooms popular destinations like Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea Region, the Negev and Jerusalem, to name a few. 

During the lockdown in Israel last year, many tourism sites were upgraded, and new features have been added as well.   Emmaus Trail, set against the background of the Judean Mountains and their foothills, is a new addition to the tourism portfolio.

The Israel Nature and Park Authority has collaborated with the Christian Information Centre on a pilot program where visitors can register for and attend Mass and services at 4 national parks, where pilgrims can come and pray in the open spaces.

The Tower of David Museum has also been making significant upgrades by revamping the permanent exhibition as well as building a new entrance.  One of the main objectives of these upgrades is to make the citadel accessible to disabled visitors.

Which segments of tourism will be your focus once tourism restarts? Which are the new destinations that you will be promoting

In addition to continuing our focus on building leisure travel, MICE, faith-based tours and other group travel, the Israel Ministry of Tourism office in India has increased its focus included edu-tourism, sustainable travel and LGBT segments to our focus in promoting tourism.  Edu-tourism has been a growing segment for many countries and, along with sustainable travel trends, we believe that this segment has potential to significantly contribute to tourism. 

By when do you foresee MICE and corporate travel market to bounce back?

The situation will get better gradually as the year progresses. Outbound tourism from the Indian subcontinent will continue to grow. However, I do believe it will take at least another year before outbound tourism levels equate pre-pandemic travel.  While the world is still trying to understand the full impact of COVID-19, and countries are being cautious with opening boarders and kickstarting the tourism economy, travellers have also become more selective about the destinations they will travel to and experience.

With Indians travelling abroad throughout the year for business, and Indian corporations expanding their global footprint, overseas bleisure travel has steadily increased.  MICE travel to Israel was booming at a steady pace before COVID-19, and we have seen some excellent MICE movements in the last few years.  We foresee an increase in the demand for Israel with new connectivity through Dubai, Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Manama (Bahrain), which we are confident will drive the demand for outbound MICE from India to Israel.

Are you planning any trade engagement activities in India market?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the tourism team has been working hard to maintain our relationships in the market with all our partners and stakeholders by hosting webinars and virtual meetups, participating in fairs, both virtual as well as in-person, and hosting roadshows. 

Earlier this year, we participated in ITB India where we interacted with over 30 tourism stakeholders, including travel agents, operators, corporate representatives, and journalists.  Since then, IGTO India (Israel Govt. Tourist Office) has participated in the MILT Conference hosted in Mumbai and Delhi, hosted a 3-city roadshow and have diverted our focused on promoting niche segments like sustainable tourism and education tourism. 

For this year, we will continue with our engagement initiatives, both virtually as well as in person via trade fairs as well as planned roadshows.

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