It’s early morning and I’m standing on the terrace of my Herods Dead Sea suite accommodations looking out over that stunning mirror-like wonder that grips you firmly under its spell, the Dead Sea. In truth, no part of Israel ever lets go once you’ve visited, with myriad magical memories…whether being engulfed with a wave of emotions while wandering the Old City of Jerusalem, hanging out late-night in Jerusalem’s main souk with DJs working their magic as locals dance between food stalls, wandering through Tel Aviv’s White City gawking at the Bauhaus architecture, strolling along the seaside in Jaffa, or marveling at the wonder that is Masada.
Yes, Israel is a place for religious pilgrimages, but it’s so much more than that. “Every traveler can find a reason why they would love Israel,” says Yael Golan, consul | director, Southern Region USA for the Israel Ministry of Tourism. “Israel is a world-class foodie destination; it has stunning Mediterranean beaches; it’s an exciting destination that feels different but familiar enough to make a traveler feel comfortable; it offers lots of adventure activities for the young-hearted; it has interesting architecture and art for sophisticated travelers such as the Bauhaus in Tel Aviv; it’s an LGBTQ world center; it’s a melting pot of more than 70 cultures; and it has one of the most exciting nightlife scenes in the world.”
The Siren Call of Jaffa
Our tour guide who led us through the exquisite area of Jaffa said it best: “Jaffa is the mother that gave birth to Tel Aviv.” The modern, European-like city that is Tel Aviv grew around the ancient port city of Jaffa, with 10 percent of Tel Aviv residents currently calling Jaffa home. It’s a place of narrow, bustling streets, where artists sell their eclectic creations and where historians have found traces of Egyptian settlements…all curving along the Mediterranean Sea. Here, as visitors stroll the busy neighborhood, they’ll come across the Jaffa Clock Tower, built in 1903 by the Ottomans; the seaside park of Gan HaPisga, with incomparable views of Tel Aviv and the coastline; the Wishing Bridge, with a station for each of the zodiac signs, where it is said that whoever holds their zodiac sign and looks out to sea will have their wishes come true; and a picturesque seaside promenade where visitors will want to linger a while.
Of course, you can’t leave enchanting Jaffa behind without getting lost in the lively and colorful Jaffa Flea Market, where anything you can dream of is available for purchase. Do recommend your clients stop in at the open-air Dr. Shakshuka eatery—so-called because the chef is a master at cooking shakshuka, a dish made of eggs poached in tomato sauce…but here, diners can also order couscous, mafroum (stuffed potatoes), chraimeh (spicy fish), and lamb or chicken shawarma.
Conquering the South
Although our group only had a handful of days in Israel—Golan recommends a 7- to 10-day visit—we did get a taste of this magical land with stops at the Dead Sea, Masada, the Qumran Caves and via Bedouin hospitality, all of which we experienced in the southern part of the country. Just a few hour’s drive from the Med coastline, visitors will find a dramatically different desert-like topography. How quickly it goes from one landscape to another is striking, but that’s the beauty of Israel—it’s a small country with a wealth of offerings. Here, in the South, home to the Negev Desert and the Red Sea, visitors will be awestruck by the Qumran Caves, where the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, some 2,000 years after they were written, in one of the caves (recommend clients visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to view the Scrolls). Walking in the footsteps of this Jewish sect and learning their history while taking in the surrounding Judean Desert makes for a mesmerizing afternoon…but then you head to Masada, a nearby ancient fortification situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, where one of the final events in the First Jewish–Roman War took place, and one is truly blown away. The history, the scenery, the immensity of it all…it’s simply spellbinding.
But the South’s allure doesn’t end there. The Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth, beckons. Recommend clients opt for a mud and float experience—lather on some mud and then head into the Dead Sea to come out with silk-like skin. And whatever your clients do, tell them to wake up early and walk to the edge of the Dead Sea to see the myriad early-morning colors reflecting off this natural wonder.
Finding Oneself in Jerusalem
The capital of Israel is enthralling, with its Old City, dating back 3,000 years, overflowing with historic sites, archaeological wonders, magical walkways, and magnificent vistas. This is the center of it all when it comes to the faithful—this is the home, after all, of the three monotheistic faiths, and for those who don’t following an inner religious path, there are innumerable archaeological sites, and historic encounters around every corner. It’s a wonderland with must-see sites such as the Western Wall—recommend clients take a Western Wall Tunnels tour; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the Tower of David—recommend “The Night Spectacular,” which tells the story of Jerusalem via a multi-sensory experience; the Old City of David; and the endless winding streets that make up the Old City Market. No doubt, it’s fascinating to a broad spectrum of your clients, and on a personal level, the enormity of the Old City and what it symbolizes to the world leaves any visitor overpowered by emotions they simply can’t—and shouldn’t—control or try to dissect.
Visitors should allow Jerusalem—and the whole country of Israel—to take hold of them, to grip them in its arms and allow the enormity of having visited a country with such a vast wealth of treasures to completely wash over them…. Israel is incomparable.
What’s In it For Travel Advisors
“More than 60 percent of sales to Israel in the U.S. are made via a travel agent,” says Yael Golan, consul | director, Southern Region USA for the Israel Ministry of Tourism. “The Israel Ministry of Tourism uses many tools and platforms in order to reach the travel market. We create and participate in educational seminars and webinars; attend, conduct seminars and distribute information at all the major consortia and travel shows; offer online courses to learn about Israel; and send out press releases and updates about the country’s travel happenings to the travel industry. And for those who’ve never been, we offer a few annual FAMs for top operators and travel agents to let them experience the country for themselves.”
Israel Ministry of Tourism: israel.travel
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