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December 6, 2013 1:45 pm

Poll: Visitors to Israel Have Better Impression After Seeing the Country First Hand

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Tourists in Israel. Photo: WikiCommons.

Tourists in Israel. Photo: WikiCommons.

In a recent survey that confirms the arguments behind the popular Birthright Program, which sponsors trips for young Jews to visit Israel, the Jewish News found that 65% of first-time visitors from Britain to Israel have an improved impression of the country after seeing the country with their own eyes.

The survey was initiated by the newspaper and by easyJet, which is opening new routes between the UK and Israel. Of the 529 first-time easyJet travelers to Israel, 57% reported having a ‘much’ or ‘slightly’ better impression on their return to the UK – rising to 65 percent among the 172 respondents who had never previously been at all. An overwhelming 78% said they would visit again and 82% claimed they had or would recommend Israel as a potential holiday destination.

Half said their previous impressions had been inaccurate, while 27% said the trip confirmed their impressions. One traveler said, “It’s important to see the country for oneself and not only to think of the reports”, while another described Israel as “peaceful, friendly and beautiful.”

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The results of the poll were released as easyJet announced that it will fly to Tel Aviv from a third UK airport, running three flights weekly from Gatwick from next April, hoping to take an additional 50,000 passengers to the country.

Hugh Aitken, UK commercial manager for easyJet, said: “Our research, in conjunction with the Jewish News, has helped us better understand why passengers choose Tel Aviv. The most striking finding was the destination’s growing popularity with young travelers who viewed it as a relaxing, beach destination. One of the reasons for launching new flights from Gatwick is because Tel Aviv’s appeal has been growing.”

In an Op-Ed to accompany the survey, Daniel Taub, Israeli Ambassador to the UK, said the results confirm “the troubling fact that widely-held perceptions of Israel are disconnected from, and far more negative, than the reality. The fact is that the majority of people will never visit Israel and their inaccurate preconceptions are unlikely to be corrected.”

“The survey results support the findings of a number of recent studies concerning public impressions of Israel.  One study, using a technique called the ‘house party test,’ asked  focus groups to describe imaginary houses on a street, each representing a different country,” he wrote. “Groups which described the Italian house as covered in ivy with pleasant music and good food, and  the Japanese house as being  ornate with tranquil  gardens, invariably described the Israeli house as  surrounded by barbed wire and populated by bearded men wearing black. Clearly the two predominant themes associated with Israel were insecurity and fundamentalist religion.”

He said the “the good news” was that a simple visit to Israel can “dispel these preconceptions,” but most people will never visit, “and their inaccurate preconceptions are unlikely to be corrected.”

Taub said the survey raised two questions; “If more than half of visitors to Israel are so pleasantly surprised by what they see with their own eyes, can the media truly be fulfilling its responsibility to present that reality accurately?”

And, for Israel and its supporters: “If the reality is truly Israel’s greatest ally, what more can we do to enable people to experience the reality of Israel – ideally by bringing them to see it first hand, or failing that,  by bringing a taste of it to them  here in the UK?”

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