INDIA – Rejina Dsoza didn't know she is part of a trend. She enjoyed her visit to Israel last summer so much that she already convinced almost a dozen of her friends, relatives and neighbors to make the Jewish State their next holiday destination.
"I don't have the words to describe it," said Dsoza, a restaurant owner from Goa and mother-of-three, "But in Israel I felt as though my soul is happy. And it's so clean! I've never seen such a clean place in my life."
Dsoza arrived to Israel with a group of Catholic pilgrims who came to visit the Christian holy sites. "But my Hindu neighbors visited before me," she said, "and they don't even believe in Jesus."
Some 40,000 Indian tourists visited Israel in 2011 - double the number of visitors in 2009. Interestingly, almost the same number of Israelis visited India last year.
This year, India was the Asian country to send the most visitors to Israel– a title that was held by South Korea for years.
Indian tourists planning to visit the Holy Land will soon be able to receive local assistance in an Israeli Tourism Ministry office scheduled to be opened in Mumbai next year.
Double tourismThis week, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and his Indian counterpart Subodh Kant Sahay signed a joint memorandum aimed at doubling the number of tourists visiting the two countries within three years.
Misezhnikov announced that the ministry will allocate NIS 2.5 million (appox $600,000) to market Israel as a tourist destination for Indians. In addition, more flights will be added between the two countries, including new destinations such as Goa.
Indian tourists spent some NIS 160 million last year during their stay in Israel. Half of the visitors were pilgrims, while the rest came for a vacation.
"We heard that Israel is expensive, but original," said Manisha Arura, a boutique owner from New Delhi who is married to an engineer. "We decided to take the gamble and were very happy with our choice. We couldn't believe that we could find such a high-class place so close to India," she noted.
The Arura family stayed in Israel 10 days. "It was expensive, even comparable to Europe, and our parents were concerned about terrorism, but we felt safer than in Delhi," she added.
Sanjoy Roy, a prominent production manager and the producer of "India in Israel Festival," said Israel is considered a "cool and unique" destination for the wealthy Indian population.
"They love the beachse, the historic sites, the architecture, the cultural shows, Israeli fashion and the hotels, but there is a serious problem at border control that must be changed," he said, adding that the strict security checks at Ben-Gurion Airport seem exaggerated and offensive to some of the tourists.
"The young security guards have the wrong impression about Indians. Many Indians realized that its better not to leave Israel with a lot of purchases because those might get damaged during the security check.
"Even olives and dates were cut in half. It's a shame," he said.