From Beijing to Jerusalem: Tourism and Israeli-Chinese Ties
September 20, 2017
The number of Chinese visitors to Israel is sky-rocketing, and Israel is trying to make them feel at home.
Unfamiliar aromas are wafting through the air in Israeli hotels. With Chinese travel to Israel soaring, jiaozi dumplings and congee are taking their place alongside hummus and shakshouka in Israeli hotel breakfast buffets.
Prime Minister Netanyahu recently described the relationship with China as a “match made in heaven.” In 2016 alone, Chinese investment in Israel increased more than tenfold to $16.5 billion. As business ties expand, new opportunities for people-to-people ties are emerging. One Israeli-Chinese agreement signed this year will see 6,000 Chinese construction workers move to Israel.
China’s growing middle class is also providing a new opportunity for economic cooperation. The number of Chinese visitors to Israel this year is expected to be five times the number it was four years ago, when it was just 20,000.
But traveling to Israel has not been easy for some of these new visitors. Some described Israeli food as “torture.” So when one Chinese visitor stumbled across an authentic Chinese restaurant in Jerusalem, she wrote on TripAdvisor that she cried a “whirlwind of tears of happiness.”
Israel has taken other steps to make Chinese tourists feel at home. For example, the Ministry of Tourism eliminated fees for Chinese tour groups, helped increase air service between Israel and China, and is teaching certified tour guides Chinese.
Although growing quickly, Chinese tourism numbers are still small in absolute terms. Israel draws about 3.5 million tourists per year, almost a million of whom are from the United States. But China’s numbers are growing faster than any country in the world. Pizza is yesterday’s food; jianbing pancakes may be the wave of the future.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East. It appeared originally in the CSIS Middle East Program newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment.