A SITE to behold

A new tourist website shines a positive light on Jerusalem.

Italian Hospital 521 (photo credit: Rafi Kotz)
Italian Hospital 521
(photo credit: Rafi Kotz)
What happens when a Canadian immigrant, a film and television producer from the center of the country and an Israeli expat tourism entrepreneur get together? They launch a new English travel website about Jerusalem, obviously. Or maybe it’s not so obvious.
iTravelJerusalem.com is the product of the combined efforts of two old army buddies and a new immigrant. The site is a commercial enterprise, but it’s not just about the money. It’s also about an ideology.
When Canadian-born Naomi Rosenboim first laid eyes on Jerusalem during a Birthright trip, she knew she wanted to stay. When producer Amos Friedlin first started filming in Jerusalem for other projects, he was struck by the beauty of the city and all it had to offer – and was shocked at how clueless he’d been, living just an hour away. When entrepreneur Ilan Zaviv fell in love with a Jerusalemite, he knew he had to head home. And so Rosenboim’s technical know-how backed Friedlin’s photographic expertise and Zaviv’s tourism acumen to form the basis of iTravelJerusalem.com.
The site is kind of a melding of the various travel websites out there. It lets you book a flight, reserve hotel rooms, rent a car, hire a tour guide and do background research on religious, cultural and historical attractions.
iTravelJerusalem also offers comprehensive listings of the capital’s restaurants and an up-to-date events calendar.
But iTravelJerusalem aims to be more than the sum of its parts. According to Friedlin, there are no websites that fully encompass all the tourist aspects of Jerusalem – and certainly none that reveal its hidden gems.
So he and his team have taken on the challenge of filling that perceived void.
To set themselves apart from the crowd, their site puts heavy emphasis on visual images. iTravelJerusalem features HD videos upon HD videos showing off Jerusalem’s sites and events. Plus it’s strong on photos – 1,000 and counting.
The site is still in its beta version, but according to Friedlin, “It’s fascinating.
We don’t know what’s going to be, but what we have is a good feeling.”
As the site advances, more user-generated content will be encouraged. People will be able to submit reviews of their personal experiences with just about everything on the site. Plus, even now, any Tourism Ministry-certified tour guide is welcome to open his or her own mini-site on iTravelJerusalem for free.
Guides can upload videos and photos, and users can book tours with them.
Friedlin and his crew want to get the word out that they’re open for business.
In fact, iTravelJerusalem provides the Tourism Ministry with complimentary materials and footage in order to spread the love of Jerusalem. The site also has its own YouTube channel that other media outlets are free to borrow from – as long as iTravelJerusalem gets the credit.
Ynet has picked up some of the site’s footage, as have local TV stations. Ynet also uses a weekly Torah portion video provided by iTravelJerusalem. What’s more, the crew from iTravelJerusalem made an environmental video for the nonprofit organization For a Butt-less Country, which strives to keep Israel clean.
And thanks to Zaviv’s connections in the worldwide tourism industry, iTravelJerusalem has an “in” with many of the big travel websites, where the team expects to be featured. Friedlin says his site, which is edited by Elie Leshem, is willing to share its positive images with any outlet.
“We love what we do, and we do it from our heart. We believe in it, and it shows,” says Friedlin. “The three of us really love the city.”
He points out that most tourists who come to Israel make sure to stop in Jerusalem. The city is rich in its diversity of people, historical aspects, archeological wonders and religious opportunities.
But Friedlin says that to a lot of people, Jerusalem is a town full of people riding on camels or war raging on every corner.
His intention is to send out a message that Jerusalem is a tourist destination, like any other big city.
Although the site offers reviews of various Jerusalem establishments, they’re more of a roster of what’s available as opposed to a critical look, explains Rosenboim. She says the site aims to give objective descriptions by detailing what a place offers, like whether it’s kosher or stroller accessible. “We provide the platform, and users can contribute [their opinions],” she continues.
Since the site wants to promote Jerusalem as a tourist destination, it strives to be positive. “If a restaurant is really bad, we won’t even put it on the site,” adds Friedlin.
At present, the site is geared toward tourists. But soon a Hebrew version will be launched, and then the listings will also offer attractions that appeal to Hebrew-speaking locals. Later down the line, iTravelJerusalem plans to expand to another five languages, including Russian and Chinese.
“We think that Jerusalem has great potential, more than any other city in Israel,” Friedlin emphasizes. He and his team speak as though they discovered and adopted the capital as their own.
But who better to boast about a child than its parents? “It was never even a question of why Jerusalem,” Friedlin says of the site’s focus. “It was always obvious.”