'Jerusalem needs to convince world it’s a safe city'

Experts at tourism parley say Jerusalem is changing the world’s perception that it is a dangerous place due to terrorism.

International Tourism conference, in Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
International Tourism conference, in Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
The key to increasing tourism to Jerusalem is changing the world’s perception that it is a dangerous place due to terrorism, a panel of marketing and branding experts said on Wednesday afternoon at Jerusalem’s first annual International Tourism Conference.
Also at the conference, tourism Minister Stas Misheznikov announced a host of new tourism initiatives aimed at increasing Christian tourism, improving tourism in the country’s periphery and supporting the construction of more hotels in Jerusalem.
The country’s capital will be the recipient of 28 percent of the grants from the Tourism Ministry directed towards new hotel construction, Misheznikov announced. In 2010, the Tourism Ministry awarded NIS 300 million in hotel grants, only 20% of which were given to Jerusalem.
Part of the reason for this increase – which is still awaiting approval – is the ministry’s decision to concentrate on Jerusalem as the “premier brand” of Israel. Misheznikov added that three new areas, Eilat, the Lower Galilee and the Beit Shean valley were added to the tourism “priority map,” which receives additional funds to improve tourism infrastructure.
The Lower Galilee and Beit Shean valley are popular spots for Christian tourists, one of the largest sectors the Ministry is hoping to court to reach their goal of 5m. tourists by 2015. The country received almost 3m. tourists in 2010 – the largest number ever to visit Israel in a single year.
“Even if Jerusalem is more safe than Rome or Naples, this perception [of security issues] keeps away millions of people who are dreaming of coming to Jerusalem,” Said John Chacko, a branding expert and the former marketing director of McDonald’s for Asia.
Chako moderated the panel, which included the mayor of the Italian city of Gaeta, Jerusalem Development Authority Chairman Moshe Lion and tourism and hospitality experts from Finland and Mexico.
A branding expert, who asked not to be named due to company policy, added that the El Al security at the airport would be a good first step towards helping to change the perception. Foreigners unaccustomed to the brisk and thorough security process in Israel are alienated or even frightened by the invasive questioning, he said.
“[Israel] needs to reposition it so people feel comfortable instead of intimidated. I feel more secure because of the security, but you need to help other people understand that.”
Prof. Eugene Jaffe, the head of the Global MBA Program at the Ruppin Academic Center, told The Jerusalem Post that the most important step Jerusalem could take in terms of building tourism was to keep the threat of terrorism down.
At a panel on branding cities, Marriot International Executive Vice President, Kathleen Matthews, said that both hotels and cities need to appeal to the rising middle classes in the “bric nations” of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
“Once you get them there, their experiences are almost always positive,” she said. “It’s not so much about getting your name out there – it’s about creating a concept and experience you’re going to deliver.”