12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
Tel Aviv has boomed this summer. Maybe that is a slight exaggeration but Israel”s largest city is having the best tourism season in the last ten years. You sense that the whole place is buzzing as soon as you arrive at Ben Gurion Airport. It is busy. Taxis, normally in abundance, still can be found, but you do have to queue (something Israelis are not very good at). The new road to the city can be a slow moving traffic jam and when you finally reach the de luxe seaside hotels they are all full (and welcoming for those booked).
Israel”s new wall has cut down terrorism dramatically. Walls of course are not new, the Chinese building the biggest of them all 2,500 years ago and a Roman general called Hadrian doing the same thing in the north of England at the time of Christ. Both worked. The soldiers on the streets seem to have disappeared and unlike say New York, there is not a policeman on every corner.
The holidaymakers are returning to a country that has an enormous amount to offer particularly for those with children. France leads as far as tourists are concerned, followed by those from the US. The UK lags in third place but at least English is the country”s second language. Whether you come from Russia, Turkey, Germany or Bolivia, if you can”t understand (or read) Modern Hebrew English will do. Everyone has a smattering, English an obligatory second language at school. With taxis very cheap actual driving is something to be carefully considered. Unlike Japan, where there are virtually no signs in English, British (and American) drivers are reasonably well catered for but you can be caught out. The easy remedy is to roll the window down and shout at the nearest passer by. You might be in luck.
In truth there are three types of visitors. Firstly the pure holidaymaker whose idea of bliss is to sit out all day in the sun and party by night. During the summer months it is day after day of sunshine with daytime temperatures in the nineties and not a lot cooler at night. Everything is air-conditioned but the heat is somehow liveable in. The glorious beach stretches all the way from Jaffa to the old port of Tel Aviv, now renovated, a combination of London”s Covent Garden and St Katherine”s Dock and very much alive at night. The beaches are free and the surf fine for the expert but not strong enough to keep the non-swimmers and children out of the water. No wonder Israel has won its first ever Olympic Gold Medal for the sport of surf racing.
Secondly the tourist. Israel has history both ancient and modern. You can visit the fortress of Masada, where the zealots held out against the Romans and the Dead Sea the lowest place on earth. Or Bethlehem, whilst the tragedy of the holocaust is served by Yad Vashem, a 45 acre memorial museum and research centre set in the hills near Jerusalem that has brought tears to some of the world”s greatest statesmen and leaders.
The third group of visitors are those engaged in commerce. Israel is a world leader when it comes to pharmaceuticals, the computer industry and diamonds. Arab countries who do not recognise the State use its advanced facilities discreetly through third parties. One really ought to add visiting friends and relatives (VFR) as another visitor group. It keeps Continental Airlines and El Al busy with non-stop flights from the US.
There are two styles of food available in Israel. Kosher and non-Kosher. Kosher basically means no pig, no shellfish and a complete separation of meat and dairy (milk-based) food. Virtually all the better hotels are Kosher and the style and variety is tantalising. Jews have returned to Israel from all over the world adding local customs and colour to a hugely varied cuisine. You can dine well kosher; Chinese Kosher, Thai Kosher and Argentinean Kosher. When it comes to non-Kosher the choice is enormous, as good as anywhere around the globe. Don”t worry about Saturday being the Jewish Sabbath. It”s just a normal day in the hotels with slightly restricted menus.
Just a ten-minute taxi ride from the beach hotel area of Tel Aviv (and taxis are cheap) is the ancient port of Jaffa whose history can be traced back for 4,000 years. Oranges, for which Jaffa is world famous, were probably first brought to the area by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Romans fought over Jaffa as did the Crusaders. The city was the turning point for Napoleon in 1799 who later the same year was to be booted out of Egypt by Nelson. Today it is a delightful tourist destination returning to prosperity after a difficult decade, a place where Arabs and Jews live in close harmony, the population split around 50/50. Jaffa is a walking city (and well thought out for the disabled); beautiful stone houses, narrow winding streets and many shops and restaurants. It is also very much an artists” quarter, typically the Ilana Goor museum housed in an ancient re-constructed (naturally including air-conditioning) building. Down by the old port, still a thriving fishing centre, the cafes and dining places offer a fine selection of really fresh sea fare.
If you do have children under your command do take them to the Safari Park, at the most three pounds sterling by taxi from the downtown promenade hotel area, and in the suburb of Ramat Gan. The 250 acre park is probably unique combining a safari park with a zoo. In fact the actual zoo, very impressive, with a much larger variety of animals than say Whipsnade, is set on an island site in the middle of the parkland. You have to drive through the park to get to it, passing Antelope, Ostrich and Zebra. Through a specially designed gate you drive through the lions” enclosure. Visitors who arrive by taxi, bus or foot are taken through on the park”s minibuses. Besides the animals there is a children”s play area and places to eat or buy ice creams.
Travel light to Israel. Yes there are some very smart restaurants but jackets are a rarity (at least in summer) and even cabinet ministers are seen with short sleeve shirts in major public forums. Eating is cheap. You can have a lunchtime meal in Dizengoff, Tel Aviv”s Oxford Street, for a little over one pound sterling. Even the normally expensive five star hotels offer fine dining at one third the price charged in London. And the size of each course is enormous. Everywhere. Tel Aviv is another city that never sleeps, with a vibrant nightlife. The Mann Auditorium is one of the world”s great concert halls and there is much open-air theatre, music and dance.
Tel Aviv”s lovely promenade is dominated by a whole series of massive hotels, all of four or five star quality, not as close together as with some of the Spanish resorts, but each within easy walking distance of the next. There is a marina too (see left). There are two Sheratons on the front with a Crown Plaza in between all offering a well-organised programme for the younger children. The abundance of parks and play areas is a clear demonstration of Israel”s determination to ensure that the kids come first. The hotels all claim to be really after the business traffic. Each has a fine executive lounge with an under 18 rule very strictly enforced. The Sheraton Tel Aviv”s Olive Tree Restaurant is as fine a Kosher restaurant as anywhere in the world.
The perception of Israel is of a country at war. It is not true. A week”s visit cannot be a true guide to any place but one gets the impression that the worst may be over. It is certainly a great place for a holiday and whilst there are parts of Tel Aviv that are distinctly tatty, which needs to be seriously attended to, the modern buildings and clean pavements are a testimony to the country and its people. You will be made to feel very welcome and don”t be put off by the Israeli”s sometimes gruff attitude, in part due to a language translation problem where they will use one word to our six.