Israeli exhibitors were busy promoting tourism to the Holy Land at the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai on Sunday – despite the ongoing Gaza conflict and cancellations of international flights.
The Israeli Tourism Ministry is focused on making the Jewish state an attractive travel destination for Muslim tourists from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Stressing Israel’s creativity and innovation, the Holy Land was promoted in Dubai as the “Land of Creation.” In addition, Israel’s attractive beaches and vegan culinary scene were advertised, while visitors were urged to “Book Your Trip Now” to Tel Aviv.
While the timing of the tourism promotion may seem odd, the Dubai tourist fair was planned well before the outbreak of the conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Ksenia Kobiakov, the director of the Tourism Ministry’s new markets development department, stressed that the focus is on the future and on further advancing the normalization agreement between Israel and its new Arab gulf partners.
“We were not talking about it. We are talking about the future. We are talking about what we can do to bring tourism to Israel,” said Kobiakov.
The very presence of the Jewish state at a travel and tourism exhibition in Dubai is a testament to the rapidly changing Middle East dynamic with growing normalization ties between much of the Arab world and Israel.
While the UAE and Bahrain have criticized Israel for the ongoing conflict with Hamas, both Gulf States are eager to bring about a ceasefire and focus on future peaceful ties with Israel.
Following the historic Abraham Accords in the autumn of 2020, the UAE welcomed the first Israeli tourists in November. To date, tens of thousands of Israelis have flocked to Dubai, which has quickly become a favored and busy travel destination for both Israeli tourists and businesspeople alike.
However, due to the pandemic, tourism has mostly been a one-sided affair because of the Jewish state’s strict entry policies for non-Israeli citizens.
With most Israeli adults vaccinated and very few active COVID cases, Israel was gearing up for reopening the country to vaccinated foreign visitors from 14 different countries, including the UAE, on May 23. However, due to the Gaza conflict, there will likely not be a grand reopening at this point in time.
After Hamas fired rockets at Israel’s international Ben-Gurion airport, Lufthansa, American Airlines, British Airlines and many other international airline companies temporarily cancelled their flights to and from the Jewish state. Flights are scheduled to resume as soon as the expected ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is in place.
According to diplomatic sources, a ceasefire could take effect as early as Thursday this week. In the meantime, Israeli airlines have maintained the air routes open between Israel and the outside world. However, for security reasons, incoming flights with Israeli airlines such as El Al are currently being rerouted to Israel’s southern international Ramon airport outside Eilat.
Looking ahead beyond the Gaza conflict, Kobiakov expressed hope that Emirati tourists will see Israel as a fresh and exciting destination and thereby bring much needed vitality to Israel’s battered tourism industry.
“We came here to show Israel as a new destination for the UAE and Gulf countries, as a very colorful, exciting destination that is open,” Kobiakov said.
She stressed that a major challenge will be to make foreigners feel safe again in the Jewish state.
“People don’t feel safe to travel now to Israel. It’s understandable. But this escalation, it will finish one day. We know that all the conflicts are coming and they are going. Tourism is staying forever,” said an optimistic Kobiakov.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.