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Meeting Martha Stewart in Tel Aviv
Some people will come to Israel just for the food.
That's what Israel's Ministry of Tourism thinks - and because of it they've brought Martha Stewart on her very first visit to Israel.
The question is - are they right?
Israel is looking for additional ways to promote itself to people worldwide. Food, culture, architecture and adventure sports are but a few of the tourism channels that are being developed in order to target new markets around the world. Last March, in a small international conference on tourism in Jerusalem, the Ministry brought in international experts to discuss how to best promote Israel to potential tourists. MTV's chief executive, Mr. Bill Roedy, encouraged attendees, most of whom were Israeli tourism executives, to create lifestyle ads to be played to MTV's young audiences; Asian Food Channel anchor, Maria Brown, dared the audience to publicize the wonderful local specialities found here. "You've got GREAT food", she exclaimed in her speech. "That'll get Asians to travel".
And in a nod to Ms. Brown who encouraged the Ministry of Tourism to "Get the Word Out on the biggest secret of all" - Great Israeli Food - the Ministry of Tourism invited Martha Stewart, "American Lifestyle guru", to learn about the country's food and hopefully let all her followers and other adoring fans know too. Ms. Stewarts itinerary reportedly included visits to Masada, the Galilee, Jerusalem as well as her attendence at a private family wedding in Jerusalem.
"I have always wanted to come here," Ms. Stewart said as she disembarked from her El Al flight from New York, "and I am so eager to see not only the holy sites and historic monuments, but also to tour markets, visit wineries and sample Israel's cuisine."
A couple days later we heard that she went to the Dead Sea, a destination that Israel is pushing to become one of the designated new "Wonders of the World". Martha tweeted to her followers: "I am at the lowest point on earth, about 420 meters below sea level. The water is about 90ish degrees. The bottom drops off very quickly but no fear of sinking. Very buoyant."
Martha Stewart at the Dead Sea Photo credit: Israel Ministry of Tourism
Aside from the above two releases mentioned, however, I've not received any other press updates about Martha's trip including any photos or comments regarding some of our most celebrated sites like the Via Dolorosa, Western Wall, Temple Mount or the Garden Tomb. Yes, we've got great food, and the Dead Sea - but we also happen to be the one and the only place known and revered worldwide as "the Holy Land". The cradle of faith - we can't forget this most important of facts, especially when it comes to tourism. After all two thirds of Israel's 3.45 million tourists, 2.4 million people, are Christian.
The Holy Land is the land of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the birthplace of Christianity - the home of Jesus Christ and one of the most important holy places for three religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Is she seeing this side at all?
So, when I happened to run into her yesterday at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, on the 5th day of her visit, I was keenly interested to learn about her tour here. So I asked her "Martha, how has your visit here impacted you? Has it changed you in any way spiritually?" She flashed her perky smile and told me "Honestly, I don't know... I just got here... I've only been here a few days."
Martha Stewart and Elisa Moed at the David Intercontinental Hotel, Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Travelujah
Mr. Mizeshnikov, you want Martha to talk positively about Israel? (We certainly do). You want her to really encourage her followers to come here? Have her eat the humus, ful and tahini at Abu Shukri after she's walked down the Via Dolorosa. Have her try knafe in Bethlehem once she's toured inside the Church of Nativity. Let her enjoy a culinary tour in Machene Yehuda after she's visited the Israel Museum, have her enjoy watermelon with bulgarian cheese and drink sahleb after she's been to the Garden Tomb. Take her to Neot Kedumim and let her learn about the seven species indigenous to the land and show her an ancient olive press. Then take her to our fabulous wineries in the Judean Hills and show her an ancient wine press as she drinks some of our world renowned wines - before you dine at Makom B'Lev in Givat Hen to see the spices and enjoy their roasted eggplant. Make sure she partakes in a unique Druze meal in Ussifiya after she's been to Mt. Carmel and seen where Elijah rose and taken in the whole of the Jezreel Valley and viewed the sea from the mountain above. Take her to Robergs but make sure she's first been to Tabgha and sailed across the Sea of Galilee.
In the last five years Israel's tourism numbers have increased from 1.8 million tourists to 3.45 million - and the country is on track to achieve a 4% increase in 2011. Christian visitation, however, specifically faith-based travel - is the single most important market segment of visitors to Israel and is responsible for much of this unprecedented growth. Christian tourism enjoyed a whopping five fold increase from 480,000 people to 2.3 million people, and represents 66 % of all incoming tourists. Of course we need to branch out and expand our visitor base - but let's not forget why most people come here and why even the most non-religious person leaves this land feeling connected spiritually in some way.
Martha, we are thrilled you are here! We hope you are enjoying every moment and our wish is that when you return to the USA you will tell everyone that you felt safe here, that the Holy Land is beautiful and rich in history, that the people are friendly - and that you feel spiritually connected in a way that has forever changed you. (Oh yeah, and we've got amazing food too. You've got to go there and try it!)
- I wonder did Martha eat at Burgers Bar? Not exotic but always an experience. I would return home from Israel and "rave" about my Burger Bar experience. One year, while I was in Israel, my family was watching a food network show that showed Burger Bar. When I got home they all knew what I was talking about. I can only say unless you experience it at rush hour (late night) you're missing a real Israel experience.