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The first two Chinese tour groups to visit Israel departed from Beijing for Ben Gurion Airport.

Their sendoff Thursday for the 40 Chinese tourists included Israeli embassy representatives and scores of Chinese media, marking the first fruits of an October 2007 agreement signed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing that made Israel one of over one hundred countries to have China’s “Approved Destination Status.” This designation makes it easier for Chinese tourists to travel to Israel, and Israel is hoping this will ultimately lead to a tourism boom. Right now the Chinese domestic market for Israel travel is mostly business people, about half of which are government delegations, according to El Al’s sales manager for China, Helen Huang. In total, 80 people will travel to Israel in four tour groups, two leaving on Thursday and two on Sunday. The Chinese travel companies CTS and CYTS worked with six approved Israeli agencies to plan a 10-day tour around Israel and Jordan. The trip was planned to coincide with China’s Oct. 1 national holiday. Before the ADS agreement went into effect on Sept. 15, no tourism companies were allowed to publicly advertise travel to Israel. Some tourists signed up for the trip after hearing about the agreement on the news, while others were already seasoned travelers. “Every year we travel with this company,” said CYTS tour group member 50-year-old Mr. Wang, “and when we heard about the Israel trip we jumped at the chance.” “Chinese people know about Israel from a young age,” he says. “Jerusalem, the Dead Sea — we know these places better than we know the names of some countries.”

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