‘How to change the perception of Jerusalem and how to showcase Jerusalem’s transition into the modern world’: this is the objective Mrs Ilanit Melchior, Director of the Jerusalem Development Authority, where she helped set up the Jerusalem Conventions & Visitors Bureau.
What’s better, then, than to invite international associations from all over the world and let them explore the city, along with Cécile Koch from Boardroom, meanwhile making sure that relationships with local academics and corporate people are closely tied up? As explained by Mrs Melchior during a business session with ambassadors from different Israeli corporations and academics, this is in line with the dynamic and strategic vision of Mayor Barkat, as the city has undertaken actions to become an international congress destination.
Mayor Barkat identified three pillars in his strategic plan: the renewal of urban life, the growth of creative industries, and the investing in Jerusalem-based clusters (Bio-Tech, Tourism and Film).
Five-year economic plan
After extensive research, Jerusalem’s government established a five-year economic plan to grow Israel’s capital city.“I believe that running a city is like running a corporation,”says Melchior, who came from a corporate background before working with Barkat to launch the CVB. “If you show the stakeholders you’re good enough, you can push whatever you want forward.”
Melchior admits that getting the word out about Jerusalem as a meetings destination is the CVB’s biggest challenge. “When I say ‘Jerusalem’ [to international planners], their eyes open,”says Melchior. “They dream about [meeting in Jerusalem], but for some reason, they don’t come here… My job is to make this vision come true.”
As the city wins more and more international events, planners are hearing the buzz about the modern Jerusalem and putting it on their radar. “It’s not about the 3,000 years of history. It’s about now, and the most important thing is it’s about the future,”says Melchior.
Some events that have recently taken place in Jerusalem include Wikimedia Hackathon, Forbes, or the OutCrowd Foundation which attracted this year over 10,000 people. “People think of Jerusalem as this historical place,”says Cathi Culbertson, vice president of event marketing and conferences at Forbes, “but it’s amazing how modern it is.”
When it comes to safety –a subject that can be touchy for planners–Melchiar travels the world over to tell how Jerusalem deals with it. “It is how you communicate, the tools you use to do so, in accordance to your target audience, and what actions you take”, she says very openly. Part of Jerusalem’s safety policy is to never cancel an event or campaign after an attack, and on the contrary show that all is under control, and return to normal life as quick as possible, within hours and not days.
This policy is definitely paying off, as the figures show: in 2016 Jerusalem had 32% more tourism and 10% more overnight stays of congress attendees than in 2015.
On top of that, the Ministry of Tourism has a ‘safety net’ procedure that will compensate international conferences for their marketing expenses, if the conference that was to be held in Israel is cancelled due to geopolitical events.Although this procedure is due to end in 2020, it will be renewed due to its great success.
Continuous improvement of Jerusalem’s infrastructure is also a must for Barkat to reach the goal of 10 million annual tourists over the next several years. Developments driving Jerusalem’s increasing popularity as a meetings destination include a high-speed train connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, expected to run by September 2018, and a new terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport, a 40-minute drive from the Holy City, also directly connected to the International Conference Centre by train.
ICC Jerusalem, the International Convention Centre, offers 12,000+ sqm of exhibition space and 27 conference halls and seminar rooms. As to accommodation, the city expects to add an estimated 4,000 hotel rooms to the current 15,500 within the next few years.
This article was written by Cécile Koch, Boardroom Managing Partner (firstname.lastname@example.org)