Exclusive: Israel expects 100,000 tourists from UAE by 2021, says minister

Dubai - Tourism will lead to real normalisation of relations, says Israel’s minister of tourism.

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Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Israeli Minister of Tourism, during the interview with Khaleej Times at The Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem.
Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Israeli Minister of Tourism, during the interview with Khaleej Times at The Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem.

Anjana Sankar

Published: Sun 6 Dec 2020, 3:41 PM

Last updated: Mon 7 Dec 2020, 7:41 AM

Real normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel will happen when people will travel and get to know each other, and Israel is expecting roughly 100,000 Emirati tourists in 2021, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, Orit Farkash-Hacohen, told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.

“There is nothing like tourism to bring people together. Peace treaty sounds very technical and formal. But it is through tourism that Abraham Accords will pave the way for two nations to reach out and get to know each other. What better way to do it than to host each other,” the minister said during the interview at her office in the Knesset early this week.

In September, Israel signed the US-brokered Abraham Accords to normalise relations with GCC countries UAE and Bahrain — the first in a quarter of a century — after Egypt and Jordan. As part of broadening the bilateral cooperation, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) signed an air transport services agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel in October, and agreed to open air travel.

Both the governments have also agreed on a visa-free travel for their citizens in what is expected to boost travel and tourism between the two countries.

Farkash-Hacohen said Israel is expecting roughly 100,000 tourists, mainly from the UAE, in the coming year “as soon as the country will ease restrictions on foreign tourists”.

“I have had talks with the foreign ministry on how we can have visa-free travel between the two countries. It will depend on the health data and the Covid situation. But we are expecting that it will happened earlier than 2021.”

“We want as many tourists as possible from the Emirates. So, we have taken it upon ourselves to address the problem. But we also have an obligation to make their stay in Israel enjoyable.”

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The Israeli government has put curbs on incoming international passengers since mid-March to contain the spread of Covid-19. Tel Aviv is still under partial lockdown and the government is easing up restrictions in phases.

However, ever since the normalisation agreement, major airlines have started commercial services between the two countries. Dubai’s low-cost airline, flydubai had its inaugural flight to Tel Aviv on November 26. The airline will operate daily two flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv.

Abu Dhabi’s national airline Etihad said it will begin operating daily flights to Tel Aviv from March 28.

In addition, three Israeli airlines will offer commercial services between the two countries. Israel’s Israir is the first Israeli airline to operate a commercial flight to Dubai and its inaugural flight packed with Israeli tourists landed at Dubai International airport on Tuesday. The airline will operate 14 weekly flights between the two destinations.

Arkia airline has also announced daily flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv. El Al will start service in March and will have 14 flights a week to Dubai.

Farkash-Hacohen said her ministry is planning to open an office in the UAE in order to assist and integrate tourism packages between the two countries.

“We are already in talks with Bahrain and their ministry is meeting with tour operators and travel agents in Israel. Imagine marketing together tour packages to Dubai and Tel Aviv.”

She said Israel is going all out to receive the Emirati tourists.

“We are redoing our travel websites and updating the Arabic version on the ministry portal. We have also issued a brochure for tour operators on how to cater to tourists from Bahrain and the UAE, and accommodate different cultural requirements,” said Farkash-Hacohen.

Israeli hotels are also preparing to serve Halal food as per the Islamic requirements and tourists guides are undergoing special courses to understand how to market Israel to new Gulf tourists.

“I may be speaking more about the economy. But what I am really excited is about people to people visits; Israelis meeting with Emiratis and start having a friendship based on love respect and tolerance rather than boycotts and terror. That is when this peace deal will get stronger and stronger,” she said.

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