No sun on the South Bank? Try West Bank

Catching a few rays: a slightly bewildered participant in one of the London Tel Aviv tourism promotions

Catching a few rays: a slightly bewildered participant in one of the London Tel Aviv tourism promotions

As Israeli officials worked hard this week to promote easyJet’s new London to Tel Aviv service, British tourism experts were advocating an alternative holiday venue — the West Bank.

EasyJet’s five-day charm offensive, run jointly with the Israeli Embassy, came ahead of its first low-cost flight to Israel, which takes off on November 2.

The campaign saw a London bus travel around the capital’s attractions, including Leicester Square and Spitalfields Market, offering a taste of what tourists could expect in Tel Aviv.

Jaffa oranges, a surf board simulator and a Bauhaus architecture exhibition were among the attractions.

The bus was met by minor protests from anti-Israel campaigners at a number of stops. On Tuesday, two members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign made the words “Boycott Israel” out of bricks and broken bottles on the banks of the Thames after being moved away from the bus by police.

Despite the efforts of the promotions team, some tourists remained unconvinced of the White City’s suitability as a holiday destination.

Wendy Smart, from Devon, said: “I was more interested in the boycotters. They are just down there on the beach and I wondered what they were doing.

“I don’t think I would go to Israel on holiday but then I wouldn’t want to go to Libya or a host of other places. I don’t want to get blown up.”

Mattheas Stritzel and his family, from Hamburg, Germany, had similar concerns.

He said: “We heard that at the moment it’s still a little bit dangerous to go there because of the conflict. I would like to go, but I wouldn’t take the children, it’s too dangerous.”

A suitable alternative to Tel Aviv, according to the government body UK Trade and Investment, is the West Bank.

A group of British tourism experts visited the area on a fact-finding mission last week and returned promising to market it as a holiday destination.

Among the West Bank’s apparent tourist attractions are Wadi Kelt, a village which is home to the hyrax, a rare mammal similar to a fat rabbit or guinea pig; Ramallah, which is said to have a burgeoning café culture and “a good Italian restaurant”; and Taybeh, which holds an annual Oktoberfest.

Tourism Society chair Alison Cryer took part in the visit and said she was “enthused”.

“There is a lot of potential for Palestine to diversify their tourism product to include short breaks, history, culture, gastronomy tours and hiking.”

Surprisingly, Israeli Embassy spokesman Ran Gidor agreed: “Israel has been working hard with the US and Palestinian Authority to nurture development and growth in the West Bank in order to foster a prosperous and secure society.

“It is no surprise that the West Bank will become a major tourist destination. The PA’s willingness to combat extremism has predictably resulted in substantial economic benefits for the population.”

The Foreign Office no longer warns against travel to the West Bank, but advises that the situation “remains fragile and could deteriorate at short notice”.

In March, an online property listings company said it would advertise holiday homes in Gaza, just weeks after the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead.

    Last updated: 4:54pm, October 15 2009