Bridge to Peace: Tourism in the Middle East 

The Historic Agreements between Israel, UAE and Kingdom of Bahrain will have a significant impact on tourism in the Middle East.

The Abraham Accords, signed on September 15, 2020 set in motion a host of business opportunities and intergovernmental agreements between Israel and the UAE.  It created an enormous potential for bi-lateral tourism as well as increased tourism partnerships in the region, for the first time.  Concurrently, Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain also signed an agreement to launch full diplomatic relations a month later.  Interaction between tourism companies in the Middle Eastern nations was encouraged and began as soon as the intention to sign the agreement was published, with the expectation that future tourism will increase to the three countries.

Relevant bodies have been working tirelessly to ensure there will be seamless travel between Israel, UAE and the island nation of Bahrain, encouraging trade and tourism.  Establishing routes with direct flights (approx. 3 to 4 hours), as well as connecting travellers from various destinations would encourage tourists to combine the countries in one visit.  Thus, creating an interesting tourism product that will attract new audiences, with the potential of joint tourism packages with Israel, the Gulf States and other countries in the region.

Following the historic agreement to normalize ties between Israel, United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain, on October 8, 2020 the Israel Transportation Ministry announced that a historic aviation agreement has been signed with Jordan that will allow flights from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to fly through to Israeli airspace.  In the near future, flights of UAE and Bahraini airlines, as well as any international carrier, will be able to fly over Israel to destinations in Europe and North America and back.

This new aviation agreement, facilitated by Brussels-based European air traffic control agency EUROCONTROL, will significantly cut flight times on some routes to the Gulf countries, Asia and the Far East, Europe, and America.  This will lead to fuel savings, a reduction in pollution and making a positive contribution to the environment.  It is hoped that regular and direct flights between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain will soon be in operation, thereby boosting tourism opportunities throughout the Middle East.

Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the UAE, recently transported Israel’s top travel and tourism leaders from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, making them the first GCC carrier to operate a commercial passenger flight to Israel.  They are also the first non-Israeli airline in the Middle East to launch a dedicated landing page for the Israeli market in Hebrew, with a destination guide for Abu Dhabi.  The site can be viewed in Hebrew at www.etihad.com/he-il and in English at www.etihad.com/en-il

Speaking about the historic Peace Agreements in the Middle East Sammy Yahia, Director of Tourism – India & Philippines said “The Abraham Accords Peace Agreements are historic milestone of between Israel and the UAE.  This is a welcome change, not for only the citizens of Israel the UAE and Bahrain, but also for India and the rest of the world.  As a result of the Abraham Accords, the Israel Transportation Ministry announced there will be 28 direct weekly passenger flights connecting Tel Aviv with Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

India has always had close ties to Middle Eastern nations, including Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  Many Indians live and work in the Middle East.  With the new airline routes connecting Israel to the UAE, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the rest of the world, the tourism landscape is drastically changing.  With all the new developments, I am excited to see how this will impact tourism to Israel from India.”

On November 9, 2020, seven weeks after the historic peace agreements were signed, WTM Virtual hosted a historic encounter – an important discussion among tourism ministers from the three destinations.  Ministers in charge of tourism from Israel, UAE and Bahrain came together, for the first time, on a virtual stage at a WTM Virtual Session entitled Tourism: The Path to Peace in the Middle East, held immediately after the Ministers’ Summit.  Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Minister of Tourism for Israel; Dr. Ahmad bin Abdullah Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises for the UAE and H.E. Mr. Zayed R. Alzayani, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism to the Kingdom of Bahrain and Chairman of Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority, discussed the tourism opportunities now available and determine the role that tourism will play in helping to secure long-standing peace in the region. 

Israel Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-HaCohen, said, “Governments sign agreements, but people make peace. The development of bilateral tourism between countries is very significant in the economic cooperation between countries, and tourist traffic between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain is the fulfillment of peace agreements. I have already spoken with my counterpart in the UAE, H.E. Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, and with the head of tourism in Dubai, HE Helal Saeed Al Marri. There are draft umbrella agreements for cooperation in the field of tourism between the countries and I look forward to a conversation also with my Bahraini counterpart, HE Zayed R. Alzayani. We are looking forward to tourists visiting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Galilee Region and the Dead Sea, the Negev Region and Eilat when the skies open.”

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