Sammy Yahia, Director, Israel Ministry of Tourism – India & Philippines, was in the capital recently, leading the roadshow conducted by Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Speaking to us on the sidelines of the event, he exuded tremendous confidence in the possibilities from the Indian market, noting that Asia, and India in particular, was the next big frontier for the Mediterranean nation. Excerpts from an exclusive one-on-one:

Sammy Yahia
Director, Israel Ministry of Tourism – India & Philippines

Several significant changes, political and economic, in the USA, Europe and Asia, were positioning Asia, and India in particular, as “the big opportunity” for Israel tourism, Sammy Yahia indicated. “We are seeing that Asia is the new market for us. We have opened an office in the Philippines; we have two offices in China, other than an office in India. We see Asia as the big market, the big opportunity,” he stressed. Israel tourism had stepped up investments in the region, he added. He explained that the USA and Europe had long been their key source markets, “for close to forty years.” “We are keen on opening new territories and Asia is the opportunity. Tourism from the region is growing steadily and so are the income levels of people,” he detailed.

Interestingly, Sammy Yahia assumes charge at a time when bilateral ties and commercial relations are at a historic high. Driven by PM Netanyahu and PM Modi, India and Israel have stepped up all-round engagement, unlike ever before.  Asked whether it made his job a little easier, he confessed that he had “come in at a good time.” “I will tell you a secret. 25 years ago when I was studying in a university my dormitory had a big poster of flying to Goa. And it has happened after 25 years,” he shared. “I am glad to be here and it is a big adventure for me to be marketing in India. It is a unique market and not like a standard market that we see in the USA or Europe. It has just been a month since I am here and I am studying the market. I see huge potential. Indian people like Israel and we have everything to offer to them,” he insisted.

Goa and Kochi connect a fillip for religious and spiritual tourism, bilateral footfalls

Arkia – an Israeli scheduled carrier – will operate flights between Tel Aviv to Kochi and Goa starting September. Slated to be operated once a week, Sammy Yahia told us that the airline was “crafting packages eyeing the family segment.”  The ministry was also working actively to open another route, either between Mumbai and Tel Aviv or between Mumbai and Ramon-Eilat Airport (located in Timna Valley in Southern Israel) through its national carrier EI AI, he said.  Expected to cater to a small yet important religious tourist segment, the new addition in capacity was going to also aid other segments, he explained. “The new flight will certainly bring in Israeli people to Goa but it doesn’t mean that it will be one-way traffic. Bilateral movement is always better facilitated through stronger connectivity,” he reflected. The idea was to tap the combination of pilgrim and leisure, he suggested. “What we are essentially saying is that we would offer tourists the best of both worlds – pilgrim and leisure,” he added.

Bilateral commerce and its impact on tourism

India and Israel’s deepening ties in agriculture, IT, water resource management and others are expected to reflect on the tourist count. When asked whether he had seen a positive impact of broadening bilateral exchanges in different sectors of commerce and industry, he said: “We in the ministry of tourism are more focused on matters of tourism and these matters are more the purview of the ministry of finance. But we are pushing for such ventures and travel relating to sectors like agriculture, IT and water resource management. We are pushing for this because more business means more tourism. The idea is to connect more businesses and tourism would follow. Israel is good for business and agricultural technology.”

E-visa could be the big game-changer

From close to 34000 in 2014, Indian outbound numbers have crossed 70000-mark in 2018, registering a sizable increase of upwards of 50 per cent. But given the potential of the Indian market, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Sammy Yahia suggested that e-visa facilitation could emerge as the big game-changer. “We should be able to cross the one lakh-mark by 2020,” he said when asked about a realistic expectation from India in the next two years. “We are trying to put in place the e-visa mechanism. Should that happen, we would easily cross the 2 lakh-mark and even beyond. However, it has to be resolved between the two governments,” he added. He noted that the government had positively considered the request and “they were working on the issue.”

Israel Ministry of Tourism team interacted with over 300 key travel and tour operators, MICE providers, up-market leisure operators and media personnel at the roadshow. The event commenced with a presentation leading to an interactive session with the IMOT team and included interactive B2B sessions, education programmes and workshops to aid trade members in planning itineraries and responding to customer queries.