MANILA -- With more Filipinos visiting the Holy Land last year, Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Effie Ben Matityau said tourism proved to be a "strong pillar" of Philippine-Israel bilateral relationship.

“Israel is the promised land and the land of many promises which create the foundation for a steady growth in tourism," he said in a statement Tuesday.

"This year, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the friendship treaty between our two countries, and tourism stands as a strong pillar of our growing ties and people-to-people exchanges,” he added.

Data from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism showed that around 23,500 Filipinos travelled to Israel in 2017, a 61 percent increase from 14,600 in 2016.

Matityau expressed high hopes that more Filipinos would travel to Israel in 2018.

Hassan Madah, tourism director for India and Philippines, said based on the 2017 tourism report the number exceeded their full-year target of 20,000 Filipino tourists travelling to Israel.

“We surpassed our target of 20,000 Filipinos travelling to Israel and towards the end the year and we reached 23,500 -- a 61 percent increase from 2016," he pointed out.

"More Israeli players entered the market, and the added good connectivity flying from Manila to Israel via Turkish Airlines and Cathay Pacific helped us in the growth of tourist arrivals,” he said.

Madah noted that the tourism office in Manila was stepping up marketing efforts to encourage more Filipinos to travel to Israel this year.

At present, Philippine passport holders can enjoy visa-free access to Israel up to 90 days.

Overall, the embassy said "2017 was a historic turning point for incoming tourism to Israel". (PNA)