On this Yom HaAtzmaut / Israel Independence Day, I’d like to write about something that might seem obvious to some of my readers. But it is far from obvious to all. Why visit Israel at all? Seems that as a licensed Israeli tour guide, it is something that I should think about and have an answer to.
Lucky for you, I do!
I raise the question, because yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by a university student from the Netherlands who is writing her thesis on tourism in Israel. Among other things, she asked me an interesting question.
She asked me, “Why should a tourist come to Israel for a visit, as opposed to other Middle Eastern destinations, such as Egypt, Jordan, Dubai or Turkey?”
I must admit, that I hadn’t really thought of Israel in competition with these other countries before. Most of the tourists that I come in contact with have already made the decision to come here for various reasons. I, of course, think about the comparisons between our countries’ tourism industries. But not so much the direct competition for tourists.
I thought for a moment, and gave her my answer. First off, we clearly have the edge from a religious perspective. None of those other countries is holy to all three major monotheistic religions. So for anyone who is interested in visiting sites that are holy to Judaism, Christianity or Islam, there is no better place in the world. But that’s a bit of an obvious answer, and the reason that many tourists do come. But she was focusing more on general tourists, not those who come for this reason.
A second reason that Israel has the edge is that none of those countries has even close to the diversity that we have, and in such a small space. Inn a country that is approximately the size of New Jersey, or South Africa’s Kruger National Park, we have something for nearly everybody.
Different climatic regions, for example. In a single day you could literally ski, visit the desert and swim in the sea. Diversity of people and cultures. Archaeology and history from well over 6000 years. Food from around the world. Sites that relate to interests as diverse as ecology, The Crusades, business, minor religious offshoots of Islam, the earliest stages of human civilization, warfare, science, medicine and technology.
Compare that with the other countries she listed. Jordan, which I believe gets approximately 4 times the number of tourists that Israel gets annually, has some amazing sites. Petra is a world class archaeological, historic and tourist site. Wadi Rum is full of natural beauty. The Dead Sea is available on that side as well. There are some major Byzantine churches and the like in Jordan. Amman is a major city. And Aqaba is a resort port as well. But simply in terms of sheer number of sites, and historical/cultural importance, Jordan (to my knowledge) has many fewer than Israel has. The diversity is there, but not to the same degree that Israel has it.
Egypt is amazing for one major aspect, which is historical sites. There may be many more major historical sites there than in Israel, and some of the world’s most famous ones as well. But again, it lacks the diversity of cultures and attractions of other types that Israel has. Plus, both Egypt and Jordan are much larger than Israel, and thus even if they had similar diversity, it takes much longer to get between the various sites. Add to that the current political and security unrest in Egypt (particularly in Sinai) and it makes it a much less attractive country to visit.
Dubai I admittedly know the least about. I am aware that it is a very advanced, wealthy, modern country. But I also know that it is very small, and I don’t believe it has nearly as much to offer on any level other than the contemporary as Israel does.
Finally, compare with Turkey. Turkey is a major, developed and diverse country. I’d say of the countries she listed, Turkey is the biggest competitor. But still, while it has diverse cultural offerings, lots of history, and many modern attractions as well, I still think it has fewer than Israel, and is certainly more spread out as well.
So simply on the level of the diversity of sites in close proximity to other such sites, I think Israel wins.
But there is still one more major draw to Israel, over those other countries. Israel is an open-minded, liberal, tolerant democracy. I know that its detractors will argue against this, but I live here, and most of them have never even visited. Even with any flaws that you think might exist in my country, when you stack it up against those other countries there is not even any comparison. Any tourist can feel at home here and is welcomed with open arms, no matter if the tourist is male or female, single or partnered, gay or straight, white or black, or any other defining characteristic. I wish I could say the same about those other countries, but I simply can’t.
This post was written in a hurry, because I wanted to get it out for Yom HaAtzmaut. So I know it isn’t worded as effectively as it can be. But I think my points are accurate. While those who hate Israel will argue with this post, I encourage any and all to come visit Israel and any or all of those other countries. Then tell me what you think!
Happy 64th Birthday to the amazing State of Israel!