Cycling is booming in Israel, both as an alternative, eco-friendly form of daily transportation and as a green tourism option. Last week Karin surveyed Israel’s progress (a nation of cycling freaks) in this area, and this week we decided to get the inside scoop on cycling tourism in Israel from one of EcoBike‘s founders and their general manager, Tomer Zaksenberg. He told us about his passion for biking all over Israel with 60 year olds, the increase of cyclists in the country, and his hopes that cycling tourism will spread all over the Middle East.
Green Prophet: How did you first get involved with EcoBike?
Tomer Zaksenberg: Just over two years ago,my dad, his work partner and I formed a cycling group called Rashi (Rochvey Shvil Israel- Riders of the Israeli Trail). This group consists of a dozen cyclists aging from 30-60 which are all passionate about two things: cycling and eating good food.
Our main mission was to do the Israeli Trail from north to south but because we are all very busy we haven’t yet been able to finish the whole route yet. Nevertheless, our rides are always very exciting and fun. While cycling with the Rashi group, the idea of creating a cycling company focused on incoming tourism occurred to me. I thought this would be a great way to combine two of my biggest loves: biking and tourism. After I decided this, I set to find a good partner to work with.
Soon enough and with a little help from my mom, I found Amir Rockman, the son of Haim Rockman, one of the first and best known tour guide cyclists in Israel. Amir, like his dad, is also a professional tour guide and a talented cyclist and within a few weeks we decided to form EcoBike – a cycling company designed for incoming tourism which believes in high quality standards, eco-travel and doing a-lot of fun. It’s been two years already and thank God, everything has been going on well since.
GP: What does a “day at the office” look like for you?
TZ: A normal day in the office isn’t as sexy as it sounds and is rather quite hectic, as I am in charge of practically everything. I start the day by answering customer e-mails and phone messages and doing follow up’s on any tour requests.If there are any tours in the near future I also reserve hotels, bikes, guides, transportation, meals, etc… After that, I spend some time on advertising (google, facebook, updating website, ads..)
Before our tours, I contact our guides, brief them and finally attend the tour itself. As I am the director, I prefer not to guide the tours but rather join and supervise them, so I can have a fresh look without being totally involved. During this time, Amir, my partner, works in the field itself, guiding the tours, supervising over our staff and giving me a helping hand whenever I need one. Amir is currently overseas guiding a cycling tour in Lake Michigan, Chicago.
What kind of tourists do the EcoBike tours attract? Are they mostly local Israelis or foreigners?
EcoBike tours attract mostly foreign tourists from USA and Europe and we have even had some travelers from other destinations (India for instance…). We also offer several bike tours like “Bike & Beer” and “Bike Jerusalem” for local Israelis.
Do you think that the field of cycling tourism is growing in Israel?
I see the demand for cycling vacations in Israel constantly growing and know that the whole cycling tourism field is evolving faster than ever before, yet I still think that we are just in the beginning of a process and we still have a long way to go. In order to really offer Israel as a cycling attraction we have to prioritize cycling tourism and offer better infrastructure for cycling routes inside big cities (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa etc..), Nevertheless, I think we are on the right track.
Do you think that cycling tourism has potential to spread all over the Middle East?
I think that it certainly can and especially so in Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey but we need to do a lot of work to make this dream a reality.
I constantly hear about new bike routes being made in Israel and have been contacted by many hotels with requests to transform to bike oriented hotels so I believe this is certainly a good start. Furthermore, we work daily with our partners in Jordan and have already received many group requests and orders for multi-day Israel-Jordan bike adventures.
Beyond cycling tourism, do you think that the cycling movement is becoming stronger in Israel?
I think you have to be blind not to see the great influx in cyclists in Israel. When I started cycling with my dad 12 years ago, beside a couple of cyclists here and there, we were practically the only ones on the bike route. Today, you can see thousands of cyclists storming the country from north to south on dozens of new bike routes. It’s great!
Please tell me a little about your experience riding the Israel Trail.
The Israel trail which starts in kibbutz Dan in the North and goes all the way down to Eilat is a beautiful 940km trail which shows you the true essence of Israel. Even though the trail is not 100% designed for cyclists and some technical riding is necessary, most of the way consists of well maintained dirt paths.The Rashi group and I had a great experience cycling the trail and we are still constantly discovering hidden gems which you just never see when staying in the city.