Jerusalem launched on Sunday a new website and started dispersing “Info Stands” aimed at consolidating all tourism information about the Holy City into one virtual location.
Mayor Nir Barkat said he was confident that the new endeavor, called itraveljerusalem.com, would help reach the goal of bringing 10 million tourists to Jerusalem every year. A mayor who has sought to present an image of enormous energy and bullish reform since he was elected four years ago, Birkat has seen tourism to the city grow from less than 2 million tourists to a record 3.5 million last year.
“This city is not just about religion and politics but also an urban cultural center,” Barkat said at a festive launch of www.itraveljerusalem.com, adding that he believed “half the world wants to come here.”
“There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a vision incarnated and today is another step in that,” said Barakat, 52.
The Jerusalem municipality, through The Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA), has pumped in some NIS 2 million ($520,00) for the development of the site, aimed at slashing red tape and offering incoming tourists the best deals and the widest range of opportunities to visit Jerusalem from all corners of the globe, Ilanit Melchior, Tourism Director of the JDA told The Media Line.
She said that on Sunday, nine Info Stands were being placed at various hotels across the city and that within two months another 36 would be set up. The venues range from inexpensive hostels to five-star hotels in order to reach the whole gamut of tourists.
“As an official site, the data is reliable,” Melchior added.
Indeed, the company Ben Ben Group, which won the tender to develop and run the site, has its staff inputting data 24/7. The site, which is easy to interface and can be used on a smart phone, gives quick access to everything from the nearest kosher restaurant; to tickets to the latest rock concert; to museum events; and hotel accommodations.
There is also a Google Street view map of all sites in the city and the de rigueur schedule of night life, shopping locations and events calendar. The Info Stands are also programmed to recommend places in their vicinity, which makes it more pertinent than someone just surfing the online site.
The site currently is only available in English and Hebrew, but it is expected to add Arabic, Russian, Italian, German and Spanish in the near future.
“The foreign media does a bad job for Jerusalem,” said Amos Fridlin, head of marketing for Ben Ben Group which developed and runs the site. “In the best case when foreigners hear the world Jerusalem they think of camels and churches and in the worst case, bombs and terrorist attacks.”
“The launch today is a whole strategic concept to link the city with the tourists and make it easier to interact with the city,” Fridlin said.
In order to make the city more vibrant, visitors are encouraged to leave reviews and recommendations on the site, much similar to popular tourism websites like TripAdvisor. Fridlin said he expects traffic to reach 300,000 hits shortly. They site also will host HD videos of the city.
Jerusalem, which is over 3,000 years old, was recently selected as one of TripAdvisor top 25 most sought after destinations. According to official figures, more than 80% of all visitors to Israel come to Jerusalem.
Still, the city is vulnerable to steep drops in tourism whenever waves of unrest and fighting engulf the city of some 910,000 residents, about one-third of whom are Arabs.
In the last three years there has been a cultural and sports revolution in Jerusalem. Culture budgets were doubled and the number of cultural events and festivals in the city has been tripled.
Jerusalem officials claim to have returned the capital to center stage, attracting the major sports and international events. Nevertheless, rock icon Madonna chose to perform in the Tel Aviv urban area for her performance last weekend that kicked off her world tour.
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