Netanyahu: Israel needs more tourists than people

Capital needs to develop quality attractions, says deputy mayor.

Netanyahu addresses the first Int'l Tourism Conferenence_311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
Netanyahu addresses the first Int'l Tourism Conferenence_311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu challenged the country’s tourism industry to achieve a situation in which there were more tourists than people in Israel, in an enthusiastic address at the first International Tourism Conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.
Attending the event at the Jerusalem International Convention Center – the first professional international tourism gathering to be hosted in the capital – were business and cultural leaders from around the world, including directors of the world’s most prestigious museums.
Netanyahu said he hoped to open direct flights to the Galilee region to develop Christian tourism there.
“I watch a lot of late-night TV, and I watch the Evangelical churches, the television churches, and they call on people to come to ‘Bible Land’ in Tennessee or Kansas,” Netanyahu said. “This is the real Bible land; it’s not made of plastic, it’s real and you can see the actual places where these events took place.”
Netanyahu added that tourism and hitech were the two most important sectors for developing and expanding the country’s economy.
Israel hosted 3.5 million tourists in 2010, the country’s biggest year ever for tourism. Visitors spent NIS 3 billion and supported 3,000 businesses, according to Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov.
“Jerusalem has developed so much in the past few years,” Yitzhak Eldan – president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, which oversees all the ambassadors in the country – told The Jerusalem Post.
“A man who doesn’t visit Jerusalem once in his life hasn’t seen the world,” he declared.
Deputy Mayor for Environment and Planning Naomi Tsur said it was a “big challenge” to get the conference up and running, to convince the international arena of the importance of tourism in Israel and Jerusalem in particular. But she warned that once Jerusalem positioned itself in the international tourism arena, it would need to have quality attractions to keep tourists interested.
“We need to fill it with more meaningful content; we need to shy away from kitsch,” she told the Post. “We need to go for the spiritual content because that is what we are.”
The conference, which runs through Thursday, will include panels on branding cities, cultural tourism, the economic impact of tourism and sustainable development, the role of media in encouraging tourism, and the impact of technology on tourism, among other topics.
The opening event also included a conversation between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and MSNBC host Chris Matthews about the challenges of tourism in places that have suffered from terrorism and natural disasters, like New York and Thailand, and what Israel can learn from those places.
James Cuno, the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, told the Post he had no second thoughts about coming to the conference just a week after a deadly terror attack across the street from the convention hall.
“It’s always safest to come after a terrorist attack,” he quipped. “It is very exciting to be here with our colleagues because we are all involved in the same enterprise, which is developing highquality exhibitions.”