MANILA -- With a growing number of tourist arrivals on both sides, an official of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism on Tuesday expressed their intent to increase Filipino visitors to the Holy Land this year.

"We are trying to do as much activities as we can, like B2B (business-to-business) activities, to showcase Israel," said Hassan Madah, the ministry’s director for India and the Philippines.

Some 23,500 Filipinos visited Israel in 2017, marking a 61 percent increase from 14,600 in 2016, which Madah attributed to Filipinos’ increasing awareness of Israel’s tourist destinations, as well as more affordable tickets to the country.

Given these factors, it is now a good time to establish direct flights between Manila and Tel Aviv, he said.

"If we have an airline flying from Philippines or from Israel, or if we have a direct flight, that will boost tourism both ways," Madah said, adding that he has already met with officials of the Philippine Airlines to see how they could open direct flights to Israel.

The two parties are eyeing to establish these flights by the end of the year or early 2019.

"This way, we have Israelis coming to the Philippines to visit and we have Filipinos going to Israel in cheaper rates and in the fastest way," he said. "This way, we partner with the tourism industry in the Philippines."

The Israeli Embassy in Manila held a tourism road show on Tuesday to help Israeli companies explore tourism partnerships with about 120 Filipino stakeholders.

Madah said this is the first time for them to conduct the road show on a big scale, with more than a hundred businessmen talking about integrating tourism packages and deals.

"We have decided that it (Philippines) is a good market for Israel," he said. "We see that this is a business opportunity, to boost the tourism for both countries. I think it's also connecting nations."

Israeli Ambassador to Manila Effie Ben Matityau, who was also present at the event, shared how tourism is shaping the bilateral relations of Israel and the Philippines.

"When I came here, I realized how significant and how fundamental can be the issue of tourism in the relationship between Israel and Philippines," he said.

In February, Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo and her Israeli counterpart, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, met during the 24th International Mediterranean Tourism Market and discussed ways to promote two-way tourism.

Israeli tourist arrivals to the Philippines grew by 98 percent from a mere 8,776 in 2014 to 17,446 in 2017.

With the Philippines already reaching 6.6 million in 2017, Teo said "Israel is a growing tourism market for the Philippines in the Middle East.” (With reports from Eleazar Batalla, OJT/PNA)