Kosher food key to unlocking Jewish tourism
Arab hospitality is all about making sure that your guest is comfortable
They used to say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and the United Arab Emirates has morphed this to even greater heights for attracting Jewish travel and tourism to the Emirates. If other countries follow suit, it will unlock Jewish tourism throughout the entire Gulf.
Since the August 13 announcement that the UAE and Israel would be normalising relations, the interest from kosher-observant Jews - both Israelis and not - in travel has increased dramatically. The UAE government is committed to making sure that Jews feel comfortable visiting the Emirates for business and pleasure - they are very supportive of their two synagogues in Dubai and are building a third in Abu Dhabi. They have also put a large focus on making sure that kosher food is readily available, because as we know, Jewish communities and tourism flourishes when there is kosher food and a place to pray. In the following weeks, the UAE made a series of announcements related to kosher food that would unlock unprecedented tourism opportunities.
On August 31, the first Israeli delegation visited the UAE and we were honoured to be asked to provide kosher certification for the delegation. The pictures of the mashgiach (kosher certifier) in the kitchen went viral and the excitement was palpable. Social media was buzzing with questions asking what kosher food was available for both locals and visitors. The UAE has had a kosher catering company for the last few years which provided vegetarian food but as more Jews visit the UAE, including this delegation, there is greater demand for more kosher food which requires certification.
As a result of the increase in interest, it was announced on September 8 that the UAE leadership asked us to be the leading kosher certification agency within the Emirates and we are working closely with the Jewish community to do so. We are overseeing the kosher food in hotels as well as events such as Expo 2020 which has been postponed to October 2021-March 2022.
Just one day later, on September 9, the Abu Dhabi government instructed all hotels to offer "kosher food and beverage options on room service menus and at all food and beverage outlets in their establishments". This announcement sets Abu Dhabi ahead of the United States and Europe. While there is often kosher-packaged food available at hotels in the US or Europe, you cannot stay at a hotel expecting to have access to hot kosher food, so Abu Dhabi's announcement is a true game-changer.
On September 17, Emirates airline, the UAE's flagship carrier, announced that it will start producing and serving kosher in-flight meals. It has already signed a memorandum of understanding with a local kosher caterer in Dubai and we are honoured to have been asked to certify the food. While kosher-observant Jews have been able to get kosher food on Emirates flights emanating from the US or Europe to the UAE, they've never before been able to order kosher meals on the return flight. There is an even larger opportunity here as the UAE serves as a hub for many flights from Europe to the Far East and having a kosher commissary available to provide food for those flights will also positively impact Jewish travel to other parts of the world.
Many have asked why the government has been so focused on making sure that kosher food is easily and readily available for Jewish travellers, and the answer is simple: Religion and religious rituals are very important to the UAE and to the surrounding Gulf countries. It's a core value they imbue in their children and they respect other religions and their rituals as well. The same way that Halal is important to them, they understand that kosher food is important to us. Additionally, Arab hospitality is all about making sure that your guest is comfortable, and they understand that in order for Jews to travel comfortably to the UAE, they need to have access to delicious kosher cuisine. The same way that the UAE makes sure that Halal food is on their menus, they are making a concerted effort to have kosher food on their menu.
Rabbi Genack is the CEO of OU Kosher, the world's largest Kosher certification agency. OU Kosher certifies more than one million ingredients in 10,000 plants in more than 100 countries around the world.
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