Israel is increasingly becoming an attractive destination for Philippine nationals as 23,500 Filipinos visited the small Jewish state in 2017. Not surprisingly, a major component of every traveler to Israel is a visit to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Perhaps it is no wonder, being that the Middle Eastern nation is forever linked with Jesus Christ (PBUH) and the majority of Filipinos are Catholics, many of them seeking to trace his footsteps in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the city that is holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
But it is not a one-way street, as Israelis are also visiting the Philippines, though still at a smaller number, 17,000 last year. The Jewish nation registered a 61 percent growth.
In 2017, over 200,000 Israelis visited Thailand, another member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) like the Philippines. The figures came from Hassan Madah of the Ministry of Tourism of Israel, which conducted a tourism roadshow on April 24 in Makati City. Another tourism roadshow was held in Cebu City on April 26, to lure more Filipinos to the Jewish nation.
Israel’s top diplomat in the Philippines, Ambassador Efraim Ben Matityau spoke at the event, inviting Filipinos to his country at the same time citing the two countries’ long-standing friendly ties and bilateral relation. A celebrity guest who traveled to Israel recently, Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan, spoke glowing of her visit to the Holy Land.
Matityau recalled that about three years ago when officials of the tourism ministry visited the Philippines there were some doubts about Filipinos going to Israel.
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“Do we have a market,” he recalled was the question. “(Now), I see that we don’t have doubts anymore…and it both goes both ways,” the ambassador said. “It is about Israelis who come to the Philippines and discover the Pearl of the Orient and you (Filipinos) discover the Holy Land.”
The number of Filipinos is still modest compared to other tourists, but it marked a 61 percent increase, a record breaker; it is the reason the ministry is stepping up its promotion through the two-city tourism roadshows.
Some 19 companies from Israel joined the roadshows, with the Manila event done in a networking format. More than 100 travel agents joined the event. Two two-way tickets to Israel were raffled off to lucky attendees.
Madah is the ministry’s director covering India and the Philippines. He noted how Filipinos are becoming more enamored with the Holy Land.
“Israel is an emerging destination for the Filipino Traveler and tourist arrivals have been growing from the Philippines to Israel over the last two years. We wanted to tap new markets, so we decided to conduct roadshows in Manila and Cebu,” he said.
He added that a direct travel to Tel Aviv, the Israeli capital, from Manila, is being worked with the Philippine national carrier. It is one of the strategies the ministry is working out to complement its roadshows to get more Filipino travelers.
“We are also working on the connectivity as we discuss with the Philippine Airlines the possibility of having a direct flight, hopefully by the end of the year,” said Madah.
Meanwhile, a little backgrounder on Jerusalem.
The seetheholyland.com website said Jerusalem is considered a holy city by the world’s three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Among Jews, Jerusalem it’s the capital city of King David’s kingdom “and where the Temple stood, containing the Ark of the Covenant. The city is holy to Christians as it is “where Christ died, was buried and rose again, and the birthplace of the Church.”
In the Islamic world, Jerusalem is “al-Quds (‘the Holy’) because Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount (Dome of the Rock in Islam) during his Night Journey.”