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Bahrain, Israel, UAE Hold Historic Virtual ‘Tourism Meet’

Ministers from three countries discuss new travel and business opportunities following the signing of peace agreement

For the first time since the signing of the Abraham Accords agreements, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain’s top tourism officials came together virtually to discuss new travel and business opportunities between the three countries.

Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Israel’s minister of tourism; Dr. Ahmad bin Abdullah Belhoul Al Falasi, the UAE’s minister of state for entrepreneurship and small and medium enterprises; and H.E. Mr. Zayed R. Alzayani, Bahrain’s minister of industry, commerce and tourism, met online at virtual session titled “Tourism: The Path to Peace in the Middle East.” The panel was part of WTM (World Travel Market) Virtual, the second-largest international tourism fair, which is being held from November 9 to 11.

“People moving between countries is the expression of true peace,” Farkash-Hacohen said at the opening of the session. “I think that governments sign contracts and agreements, but people are the true expression of peace.”

Farkash-Hacohen’s Emirati counterpart, Al Falasi, agreed and also pointed to emerging business opportunities as being a major motivator for newly blossoming ties.

“Israel has been very well-known to be a hub for startups, specifically in hi-tech technologies,” Al Falasi said. “I think the Abraham Accords will really help both the UAE, being a hub for the Middle East and North Africa … and Israel to have a slew of entrepreneurs and investments [that will] enrich the ecosystems of both sides.”

He added that Emiratis are very excited to be able to travel to Israel and that he expects both incoming and outgoing tourism between the two countries to boom in the near future. For this reason, the UAE’s travel industry has already begun ramping up the production of kosher food for Israeli tourists.

People moving between countries is the expression of true peace. I think that governments sign contracts and agreements, but people are the true expression of peace

Alzayani, Bahrain’s minister, also stressed that Bahrain’s business sector is particularly keen to begin working with their Israeli colleagues.

“There are a lot of commonalities with Israel and Bahrain: the sense of entrepreneurship, the pride in creating, and being small nations,” Alzayani said. “For years we have been isolated from each other. I think we have a golden opportunity now to explore new ventures with each other.”

While visa requirements are still being ironed out, on Monday Israeli airline Israir announced that it would begin offering weekly flights to Bahrain beginning on January 31.

“We are excited on every level and looking forward for the skies to open so that we can have guests from the UAE and Bahrain,” Farkash-Hacohen stressed.

Foreign nationals are still forbidden from entering Israel due to COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, Israel’s Tourism Ministry is already preparing for an expected surge in incoming Muslim tourism and has begun training tour guides to develop their Arabic language speaking skills.

The ministers’ statements come less than two months after the signing of historic bilateral normalization agreements, which have accelerated a wide range of business and intergovernmental initiatives in the region. The tourism sector has also been at the forefront of these efforts despite the ongoing pandemic.

“When people travel, they form friendships, engage in dialogue and are able to see things from a different perspective,” WTM Senior Director Simon Press said ahead of Monday’s virtual session. “When flight paths open up, the prospect for new business becomes a reality, which creates wealth and opportunity for destinations and their citizens. The post-COVID possibilities are endless for this region and we’re excited that WTM Virtual has been able to facilitate such an important meeting and play a part in history.”