The Israeli government expects to receive some 60,000 Filipino tourists by 2019, after the Philippine Airlines assured the Israeli Embassy that it will open a direct flight from Manila to Tel Aviv, Israel Tourism director Hassan Madah said in an interview.
Speaking to the Manila Standard at the sideline of Israel’s Tourism Roadshow this week, Hassan said that with the possible new direct flight by PAL, Filipino tourists may change their perception and misconstrued ideas about Israel on the issue of safety. Israel is a country that is surrounded by countries in conflict.
“I think if PAL would open direct flight to Israel, Filipino tourists visiting Israel would reach easily from 50,000 to 60,000 by next year,” Madah said.
“[The direct flight] will bring more awareness to the place, to the destination,” he added.
Data from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism showed that Filipinos are starting to discover the Holy Land as figures increased by 61 percent in 2017, or 23,500 Filipinos who have traveled to Israel compared to 14,600 in 2016.
Israel’s Ambassador Effie Ben Matityau said in his speech that with PAL’s assurance of direct flight to Israel, he believed that more Filipinos will travel to Israel.
“Israel is the promised land and the land of many promises which create the foundation for a steady growth in tourism...we surpassed our target of 20,000 Filipinos traveling to Israel,” Matityau said.
Madah on the other hand said he had discussed with PAL president Jaime Bautista the possibility of opening a direct flight to Tel Aviv by the end of 2018.
The move, he said, would allow Filipinos to fly to Israel, and vice versa, at cheaper rates.
The tourism official also added that PAL, for the past years, has been planning to open a direct flight to Israel and now it will be pushed through after Saudi Arabia began allowing commercial airlines to use its airspace.
Madah said that before, commercial flights like PAL, need to fly above the red sea, which will take them two hours more.
“This requires more fuel, more time, and is not convenient for anybody,” he said, adding that with PAL’s direct flight, the time between Manila and Tel Aviv will be cut short to only 10 hours.
He also said that Manila may become a hub for Southeast Asia, bringing the Isrelis to other nearby countries, like Australia.
“The planned to boost both tourism is also a way to tell Filipinos and other foreign tourists that it is safe in Israel—it’s the place to be. And they can really have fun, and can really feel secure and come back safe,” Madah said.
Actress Maria Cecilia Laxa-Pangilinan, who was recently invited by the Israel embassy to visit and join the Jerusalem Marathon there, said that contrary to other people’s belief that you dodge bullet when you visit the place, she said that going there for four days were the best and unforgettable things that happened in her life.
She said that aside from the Pilgrimage, visitors can enjoy Israel’s authentic food, rich culture, hiking, the beaches, and shopping, among other activities.
So far, Turkish Airlines and Cathay Pacific offered routes that can transport Fiipinos to Israel through Istanbul and Hongkong, respectively.
Madah also said that Israeli citizens are now looking at the Philippines as the next destination for adventure, leisure, and other activities, given that the country has 7,107 beautiful islands.
“Israel is always looking for the next destination...in their natural way, they wat to explore more, that’s why they are coming here,” he said.
The tourism official admitted that Israeli tourists find Thailand “too touristry, too many people” and that they are starting to explore the Philippines.
“They want places maybe a little less tourists and not really so explored. Because in here, you have so many islands, so they can always find themselves alone in the island,” he added.
He also added that more Israelis had taken an interest in visiting the Phiilippines after the reality TV show “Survivor” Israel edition which filmed its eighth season in Palawan in 2017.
“Nobody before knew what Palawan was. They would say, ‘Where is that?’” Madah said. “Now you say Palawan in Israel, and they know.”
Israel and the Philippines established full diplomatic relationships in 1957 and signed a treaty of friendship in 1958.
The Philippines established an embassy in Tel-Aviv and Israel opened an embassy in Manila in 1962.
Israel is now one of the few rich countries, along with Singapore and Hong Kong that do not require Filipinos to obtain a visa prior to travel.
Israelis can also visit the Philippines visa-free for up to 59 days.
Some 15,000 Filipinos visit Israel mostly for pilgrimage each year, while nearly the same number of Israelis, including young backpackers, tour the Philippines.
Some 30,000 Filipinos work in Israel, most of them as caregivers.