Israel and Greece
One is known for its holy sites, such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. The other, its ancient philosophers, like Plato and Socrates, monumental temples and for inventing theatres and the Olympic Games.
And yet, the two countries are similar in their ties to tourism. Both nations kiss the Mediterranean Sea, a hot spot for international leisure seekers, and one can fly from Israel to Greece, or vice versa, in under three hours. There are many routes.
And, coming out of the pandemic, both destinations recognize the importance of collaboration, which was on full display Thursday night (Feb. 23) at a wine-and-dine for travel advisors, tour operators and media at Archeo in Toronto’s Distillery District.
The event, co-hosted by the Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT) and the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), was held to promote multi-destination travel – a trend that is gaining in popularity, Gal Hana, Consul Tourism Director for Canada at the IMOT, told PAX.
“Both Israel and Greece hold a unique value proposition for the Canadian market,” Hana said. “They’re sun destinations, but with rich culture and history. And that is what we're trying to promote.”
One could argue that the two destinations, technically, are fierce competitors. But Hana doesn’t see it that way.
“I personally don’t think we are competing,” he said. “[Rather], we should complement each other and walk together. Because basically, what we are doing is trying to make things better.”
Sofoklis Savvas, exhibitions and trade coordinator, North America at the GNTO, noted how Israel and Greece are on the same page in terms of how they view tourism.
“We’re looking into the future,” Savvas told PAX. “And a good way to look into the future is to collaborate, create alliances and become stronger that way.”
Air Canada, notably, flies five times a week from Toronto to Tel Aviv (with seasonal service out of Montreal), as well as offers non-stop flights to Athens.
Israel – “Exactly Like Nowhere Else”
Israel has hit the ground running in 2023, recently launching a multi-platform campaign, "Exactly Like Nowhere Else,” that spotlights Israel's uniqueness as a destination that creates a personal connection with its visitors.
The branding zeroes in on memorable experiences, highlighting a range of products travel advisors and operators can sell.
Despite there being fewer direct routes between Canada and Israel compared to pre-pandemic times, Canadian arrivals are still strong, Hana said.
In 2019, arrivals from Canada sat at roughly 100,000 and, these days, Canadian traffic is trending just below that mark, he said.
“That's despite the rising costs of flights and hotels, so we are very happy,” Hana told PAX.
Israel is a faith-based destination for many Jews, Christians and Muslims. But what the IMOT has been pushing in recent years is the Middle Eastern country’s potential as leisure destination for luxury and MICE markets.
From motorcycle tours to culinary adventures to trips for women travelling solo – “all of this exists in Israel,” Hana explained.
What’s also unique about the destination is that it’s small and accessible – “It’s about the size of Lake Ontario,” Hana said.
The country offers a range of activities – one could be skiing in Mount Hermon, Israel's only ski resort in the north, one day, to then riding a camel in the desert, three hours south, the next.
There’s new and restored national parks, such as Sussita (Hippos), a capital in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods; Tel Lachish (the site of the biblical city of Lachish, second in the Kingdom of Judah only to Jerusalem); and Migdal Tsedek, which has an ancient fortress and tells the story of the modern quarry industry and heritage of Jewish stonecutters.
And visitors can also tack on an excursion to other destination, like Dubai, which is roughly three hours away by plane.
“Think of Israel as a gateway to a very exotic region,” Hana said.
Greece, meanwhile, is set to welcome a large number of international visitors this year as it sees enhanced lift out of North America.
With celebrated beaches, gastronomy, nature, culture, and archaeological sites that double as open-air museums, Greece’s overall tourism arrivals are reportedly surpassing 2019’s figures.
The GNTO, said Savvas, is focused on promoting winter, wellness, cultural, religious and adventure tourism, and travel to parts of Greece that are perhaps not as well known, such as mainland regions and islands in the north.
In a presentation, Savvas shared statistics that identified high-income travellers as a market that has “dominated” arrivals in Greece.
“Greece has established itself as a high-end destination,” Savvas said.
The country in southeastern Europe with thousands of islands scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian seas has also made investments in infrastructure.
Recent examples of this include the introduction of a high-speed electrified train that connects Athens to Thessaloniki in under four hours, the renovation of 14 Greek international airports, and the “game-changing” New National Road that runs along the northern coast of Crete.
That road, in particular, will “transform” the experience of travelling on the island, Savvas said, allowing visitors to acquaint themselves with more beauty and diversity.
One major development underway is the construction of “The Ellinikon,” a sustainable "city within a city” that will be integrated into the Athenian Riviera.
Built on the site of Athens’ former international airport, the $8.2 billion-dollar project with residences, hotels and parks, set to open in 2025, promises to be a green oasis, twice the size of Central Park and three-times the size of Monaco, with a waterfront that will be open to all.
“2023, as far as I can say, all things being equal with nothing crazy happening, will hopefully be a record-breaking year,” Savvas told PAX. “We’re very optimistic.”
Hana underlined the important role travel advisors will play in building tourism, which he called “a significant economic engine.”
“Your power is much more than a travel agent,” he said. “You can sell the day-to-day itinerary, you can take advantage of an easy sell when someone is calling you to travel from point A to B. But if you really want to utilize the potential of tourism, you need to think about your values, what is important to you and incorporate that into your value proposition.”
“When you are selling tomorrow’s travel, make sure that it matters.”