Just over a decade ago Jerusalem was ranked fourth in the world in the number of
international conferences it hosted, but the outbreak of the second intifada,
and the years of regional instability that followed, plummeted it down the
Today Israel is in 58th place, hosting 23 international
conferences, roughly a third of the number it hosted at its peak.
interview for The Jerusalem Post
, on Tuesday, Mira Altman, director general of
the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) and former director general
of the tourism ministry, explained what caused the plummet and what needed to be
done to put Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, back on the conference
“Until 2000, Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, was a highly
coveted place to hold international conferences.
The city has all the
characteristics required of a conference host, from its luxurious hotels, to its
world famous attractions and, of course, a world class convention center,” said
Altman. “The last really big conference we hosted, was a diabetes conference
attended by 10,000 participants. A decade later we no longer have events on that
scale. After the outbreak of the Intifada, Israel was erased from the conference
circuit map almost overnight. Conference organizers simply stayed
Altman said that returning to the circuit was a Herculean task and
one that took years to achieve. “Big international conferences are scheduled
years in advance, sometimes as long as a decade before they take place. The
location of the conference is usually decided by a committee and when the
committee members see that there is risk in holding a conference in a particular
place, they automatically pass it over.
Only in 2004, when things started
calming down, did we see bookings for 2014,” said Altman.
“If in the past
what kept conference organizers away was the security threat, today it is
Israel’s geo-political situation and the boycott atmosphere. I think that if
Israel is seen to be willing to enter peace talks and a change in the general
atmosphere, we will see the large international conferences return,” said
Altman said that despite the cold shoulder that Israel received,
the ICC continued to take part in international conference organizers’ events
and retained its membership in the International Congress and Convention
Association and the International Association of Congress Centres, two leading
“Throughout the years we continued to put
ourselves out there and present our product to the world, even though it meant
investing a lot of money, with little payback. Just for example, it costs 12,000
Euro to place a full-page ad in the industry’s leading journals,” said Altman.
“We sincerely believe that the investment will pay off and that, as we are
already beginning to see, there will be a reversal of the trend. The past three
years have seen an improvement, but we are still not back to the record numbers.
If back then we hosted conferences with 10,000 participants, today the numbers
stand at 2,000-2,500 participants for the largest events.”
Altman the benefits of hosting international conferences are not just to places
like the ICC, but to the city and the country at large.
figures show that the main beneficiaries of conferences are local hotels, with
lodging making up 39% of the average expenses of conference goers.
Transportation and tour services come in second with 19%, food and beverage
expenses make up 11% and shopping makes up 17%. The conventions centers
themselves make up only 6% of the overall expenses of the visit.
conferences is a driving force for the whole city. We have created a model that
shows that if the city hosts 80 international conferences a year it will make
the city NIS 460 million,” said Altman. “Conference participants tend to earn
above average incomes and have the spending power to infuse the city and its
businesses with money.”
LOOKING AT figures for other cities gives an idea
of what could be in store for Jerusalem. In 2008 Glasgow hosted 37 international
conferences with a total of 20,000 participants that made it NIS 180
Prague, hosting 74 international conferences, made NIS 194
million. Istanbul, hosting 53,000 people in 72 conferences made the city NIS 473
million and industry leader Paris made NIS 660 million from 139
Those numbers are not lost on tourism professionals and both
the Jerusalem municipal tourism department and the Tourism Ministry have plans
in place to market the capital as a prime conference
According to Altman, what’s needed is more cooperation
between the different sections of the tourism industry – hotels, convention
centers, airlines and conference organizers. “Instead of pooling our resources,
it’s each man for himself. Everybody believes they can get the people to come to
them and don’t realize that by working together everyone will
According to Tourism Ministry Director General Noaz Bar Nir,
the ministry is looking at two main tracks to promote conference tourism. One is
setting up an insurance fund that would be used to reimburse conference
organizers in the case of conference cancellations due to security issues, and
the other, the creation of a conference promotion board, drawing all the
industry forces together to attract conference organizers.
“We are aware
of the financial potential of hosting conferences and would like to see more of
them held in Israel. We plan to hold meetings with hoteliers, tour operators,
travel agents and conference organizers to find ways to bring Israel back to
it’s former levels,” said Bar Nir.
In January the ICC will be holding its
The center plans to host a gala event and display a
museum exhibit presenting the rich history of the institution and the landmark
events that it has hosted over the years, from the first Zionist Congress in
Israel to the Demjanjuk trial to the Eurovision song contest.