Chinese tourists closer to Israel
"I was full of excitement and curiosity for the whole trip. I wish to come back in the future and dig into the diverse culture of this biblical land," said a lady with the surname of Ren when she is about to leave Israel's Gurion International Airport.
As a member of the first Chinese tour group to Israel, she said she felt lucky to enjoy the unique experience of the 10-day trip to Israel that has long intrigued many travelers around the world.
Alongside with other nearly 80 tourists who departed from the Chinese capital of Beijing in two batches separately on Sept. 25 and 28, Ren visited many places of interests in Israel and Jordan during the tour.
"The most interesting parts are the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea," said Ren.
The tour, organized by two major Chinese travel companies, China Travel Service and China Youth Travel Service, together with six approved Israeli agencies, comes as the fruit of the agreement inked in October between Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, which signals Israel an approval destination for Chinese tour groups.
Wu Jianguo, manager of the Latin America and Africa Division at China Travel Service Head Office, believed that Israel could became a potential destination for Chinese tourists.
The Chinese travel agencies are planning to gradually increase the number of Chinese tourists coming to Israel, not double or triple the amount every month.
The 10-day tour to Israel costs 21,800 yuan (approximately 3,200 U.S. dollars), more expensive than trips to the United States.
Currently, those who are interested in Israel trip are mainly increasingly rich Chinese business elites, according to Helen Huang, the sales manager of Israel's El Al Airlines in China.
Statistics released by Israel Tourism Ministry show that about 8,000 business tourists visited Israel from China in the first seven months of 2008, up 45 percent over the same period in 2007.
"Our target is to bring some 15,000 Chinese tourists by the end of 2008," said Foreign Press Adviser to Israel Tourism Ministry Lydia Weitzman.
However, things are not perfect. Ren said, "The biggest problem is that it is hard to find Chinese-speaking tour guides who could convey abundant information and stories to us, as we don't want to miss anything on the journey."
Moshe Even-Zahav, director of Non-represented Countries of Israel Tourism Ministry said the office is considering training some Chinese students studying in Israel to be tour guides.
"It will take some time to recruit professional guides that are capable of representing the historical and archaeological aspects of the country to the Chinese tourists," he added.
In fact, Israel Tourism Ministry has made great efforts in preparing for the wave of Chinese tourists, such as training chefs in hotel restaurants, recruiting Chinese-speaking employees in the hotel and tourism industries, translating informational material, maps, brochures into Chinese, Lydia told Xinhua.
Wu also suggest Israel to do more promotion works to attract Chinese people and convince them the country is not as dangerous as they imagine.
"The target of 15,000 tourists can only be achieved with very aggressive marketing and successful promotion the travel agents to destination with incentives," Wu said.