For those of us who love to travel, enjoying different cultures and experiencing sites from our bucket list is what we live for. And yet some of those who dream of traveling to exotic locations like Israel watch the news and wonder if it is a risky choice for a vacation spot. Should I go to Hawaii instead?
I make Israel my home and realize that fear about going there stems from the media's portrayal of it, rather than reality. There is clearly a perceived danger regarding travel to Israel and yet I've come from a small, safe town in Canada to make this place my home.
Despite concerns over political tensions, Israeli tourism remains steady - and I can see why. Once you arrive and sit yourself down at the beach for a beer, any anxiety you might bring with you will melt away. I feel safer walking the city streets in Tel Aviv than when I was living in New York City last summer.
Last month, a surge in stabbings in NYC was reported in the news with over 800 stabbings in only three months. The reporter went on to say that an Israeli tourist was stabbed while waiting in the subway just the night before. And yet Israel is scary? This prompted me to look into the crime statistics of Israel and the US. Every piece of data I could find showed significantly lower rates per capita in Israel.
So yes, something could happen while you visit Israel, but it could also happen (and statistically is more likely to happen) in your own hometown.
Throughout October of 2015 Israel experienced several terrorist attacks against Israeli police and military personnel in Jerusalem, but the anxiety it created has lingered to this day. The general assumption was that these unfortunate events would destroy Israel's peak tourism season - but they were wrong. People are coming in droves, especially as the temperatures start to rise. It was 96 degrees yesterday, in May!
In fact, it is nearly impossible to find an available hotel room in Jerusalem due to the high number of tourists visiting the country this summer. While headlines may appear alarming, the reality is that life in Israel is continuing as normal.
With 3.1 million visitors each year, 800,000 of which are Americans, the stats prove that tourism is still going strong. This is especially impressive for a country that is only the size of New Jersey.
Remarkably, tour operators like America Israel Tours have not experienced a significant number of cancellations when safety or political tensions arise, they tell me. I met a US Ambassador stationed in Europe last week who told me that he told his security detail to step back away from his family when he travelled to Tel Aviv last month. That he loved every moment. That he felt safe.
Israel is the cradle of the world's three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, so naturally it has had to adapt and prepare for tourism. Licensed guides are trained to diligently take every precaution to ensure the safety of their groups by implementing advanced security measures set forth by the government.
It appears to be working because visitors to the Holy Land are returning home with reassuring accounts of their many extraordinary experiences.
Don't be dissuaded by anxious emails from loved ones. I live here and love everything Israel has to offer - the rich history of Old City Jerusalem, the stunning beaches of Tel Aviv, floating in the healing water of the Dead Sea, tasting the culinary delights that are around every corner - they have all formed treasured memories that now make up my life. Leave your stress at home and come and see a sunset. You'll know what I mean when you arrive.