Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov was in Madrid on Wednesday to formally open the Israeli exhibit at the International Tourism Trade Fair, where he he met, talked and shook hands with his Iranian counterpart.
“As opposed to the cold reaction I received from the Syrian representatives when I approached their stall, the Iranians came out to greet me,” said Miseznikov in a phone interview from Madrid.
“While the Syrians turned their backs to us and made it clear that we were not welcome, the Iranian exhibit manager shook my hand warmly and gave me a tour of the Iranian booth and told me about the sites they had on display. He then invited me, informally of course, to visit Iran so that I will get a chance to see the archeological sites and ancient cities first hand.
“I told him that I sincerely hope that I and the rest of the citizens of Israel will have the opportunity to visit Iran, provided the relationship between our countries allows for it,” the minister added.
Misezhnikov stressed that the Iranians knew that they were speaking to Israeli officials. “They didn’t hide or scurry away, they remained and talked to us pleasantly.”
Misezhnikov said that he also had the chance to meet and shake hands with the Iranian tourism minister, Hamid Baghaei, when the representatives of all the participating countries took part in a formal ceremony and the two stood next to each other.
“I introduced myself and we shook hands and talked for a while,” said the minister. “I’ve always said that tourism, which tends to stress the positive over the negative and shows the pleasant side of the region, can be a bridge for peace.”
During the event, Misezhnikov also had a chance to meet with his Palestinian counterpart. He said that they had a very nice conversation and that he invited her to visit in Jerusalem and she accepted. “We cooperate with the Palestinians on several joint tourism projects as well as in the bid to have the Dead Sea make it in to the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition,” said Misezhnikov.
Aside from taking part in informal diplomacy, Misezhnikov was in Spain to oversee the Israeli delegation to the world’s largest tourism trade show. The show will be taking place over the next three days and Misezhnikov said his ministry sees it as an important venue to reach out to the Spanish and Latin American market.
“The participants of the trade show are some of the biggest operators in the business and being here gives us a great opportunity to present the Israeli tourism product to the rest of the world,” he said.
The Israeli exhibit covers 380 square meters and is manned by representatives of the Tourism Ministry and the Israeli airlines as well as travel agents and hoteliers. Among the items on exhibit is a display featuring a copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a voting booth for the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition.
Visitors to the exhibit receive bracelets with blessings from Galilee tzadikim graves.
Misezhnikov will be in Spain for three days of meetings with leading travel agents and airline executives, before he goes to Portugal to sign a bilateral tourism agreement.
“It is important for us to have a presence in a Catholic country like Spain, which has the potential to send many pilgrims and tourists to Israel,” said Misezhnikov. “It is important to leverage the Pope’s visit to Israeli last year to draw in more and more tourists.”