Industry leaders emphasized the need to “rebrand” Israel as a tourist-friendly
nation by debunking common misconceptions at the second annual Jerusalem
Innovative Tourism Summit on Tuesday.
The two-day summit was held at the
Jerusalem International Convention Center and featured lectures from luminaries
of the tourism industry.
While the country was trumpeted for its
cutting-edge mobile apps to assist visitors during their stay here, numerous
experts focused on shattering Israel’s image as a region defined by conflict and
“We know from studies that misconceptions about Israel are
primarily due to lack of knowledge,” said Oren Drori, deputy director-general
and head of marketing for the Tourism Ministry.
need to realize that they are not going from Ben-Gurion Airport to a battlefield
– that we have excellent roads, people who speak English and basically, a
product that sells itself.”
Drori said the ministry commissioned a
branding team from Britain to study Israel’s image and found, from numerous
focus groups, that it is generally seen in stark terms by those who have never
“We always say that our main challenge is to bring a person to
Israel for the first time because after being here once, all the walls of
misconception – including safety, getting around and things to do – fall
Drori said it was important to identify viable target groups who
are not anti-Israel and then adjust and expertly package messages about Israel
being conveyed to them.
He said for evangelical tourists it is important
to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the country and for the homosexual
community, to show Tel Aviv as a gay-friendly city with an active night life and
“At the end of the day, we want people to say, ‘Wow! I
didn’t know this about Israel.’” “We need to break down audiences, get to know
them, send the right messages to them, and then get them over here to show them
how spectacular this country really is.”
In terms of the hyped
technological aspect of the summit, Drori said that while he respects
innovations to make traveling easier and more user-friendly, it will not solve
the problem of bringing a considerably higher volume of visitors to the country.
To change hearts and minds, a basic message must be adjusted to reach target
audiences, he said.
“Technology is important and we must be modern enough
to supply the right tools, but with all due respect to technology, it’s a
service tool – it doesn’t help change the image of this
Meanwhile, Diego J. Lofeudo, senior director of market
management for Expedia Travel, said Expedia has a presence in over 70 countries
and views Israel as an excellent opportunity – although he echoed Drori’s
sentiments about rebranding the nation’s image.
Lofeudo said that Expedia
invested in Israel eight years ago to sell it to the world but the main
challenge is overcoming the stigma that the country is only religion and
“They don’t know about the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, the
beaches, the Mediterranean, the restaurants, museums and inclusive
Lofeudo said because the world is increasingly becoming more
volatile due to terrorist elements, as people become more acclimated to this
reality, international tourism remains a large draw.
“For good or bad,
we’re getting used to living with uncertainty around us all around the world,”
“But it’s been proven that nothing can stop people from
traveling in the long-term. There may be short-term consequences, but in
the long-term [tourism] is always an active business.”
Lofeudo cited the
September 11 terrorist attacks as an example of the industry’s
“We had a considerable drop worldwide because people were
scared to get on a plane,” he said. “But through digital marketing we were able
to get people to start traveling again by offering them good
Indeed, with 60 million visitors to Expedia’s website each month,
Lofeudo said his company offers prospective travelers “deals that they can’t
refuse” to come to Israel.
“Israel has a great product and a good
infrastructure – it’s small, and in this case, small is good because you can see
much of the country in a single trip,” he said. “Also, the people are very
friendly. These are all good things – the problem is branding...”
change the perception of “war and religion,” Lofeudo said there are two ways to
dispel these common myths, the first being instituting education programs for
people in the travel and service industries.
“People working at travel
agencies and service sectors need to know the facts about Israel in terms of
explaining to tourists that there are many misconceptions about it,” he said.
“They need to explain that it’s a safe place with incredible attractions and
things to do. This can’t be done without education.”
The second element
in Lofeudo’s strategy involves attracting what he calls “FIT’s” (For Individual
Travelers), instead of the common practice of large groups who travel
“Israel is built for groups, but to attract individual
travelers, certain things need to be developed.”
He said that Tel Aviv
has exploded in the last two to three years in catering to the individual with
boutique hotels and rural attractions.
But he noted that Jerusalem is
behind in these services and that the image remains solely focused on
“Even though there is great history there, it’s not marketed
effectively,” he said. “There’s no brand.”
A member of the Tourism
Ministry, who requested anonymity, agreed that Jerusalem is not being marketed
well to attract a wider array of tourists.
“In general, the tourism
market in Jerusalem is conservative – attracting rabbinical leaders and
evangelical leaders who we rely on to bring large groups,” she said.
official continued that with each new tourism minister, a new tourism campaign –
whether it’s the beach, religion or history – is sold to the client and the
message is not consistent.
“We need to change this to appeal and attract
more types of visitors,” she said.