Jerusalem Copies Istanbul

Just over a decade ago Jerusalem was ranked fourth in the world in the number of international conferences it hosted, but the outbreak of the second intifada, and the years of regional instability that followed, plummeted it down the rankings.

Today Israel is in 58th place, hosting 23 international conferences, roughly a third of the number it hosted at its peak.

In an interview for The Jerusalem Post, on Tuesday, Mira Altman, director general of the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) and former director general of the tourism ministry, explained what caused the plummet and what needed to be done to put Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, back on the conference map.

The city has all the characteristics required of a conference host, from its luxurious hotels, to its world famous attractions and, of course, a world class convention center,” said Altman. “The last really big conference we hosted, was a diabetes conference attended by 10,000 participants. A decade later we no longer have events on that scale. After the outbreak of the Intifada, Israel was erased from the conference circuit map almost overnight. Conference organizers simply stayed away.”

“Throughout the years we continued to put ourselves out there and present our product to the world, even though it meant investing a lot of money, with little payback. Just for example, it costs 12,000 Euro to place a full-page ad in the industry’s leading journals,” said Altman. “We sincerely believe that the investment will pay off and that, as we are already beginning to see, there will be a reversal of the trend. The past three years have seen an improvement, but we are still not back to the record numbers. If back then we hosted conferences with 10,000 participants, today the numbers stand at 2,000-2,500 participants for the largest events.”

“Hosting conferences is a driving force for the whole city. We have created a model that shows that if the city hosts 80 international conferences a year it will make the city NIS 460 million,” said Altman. “Conference participants tend to earn above average incomes and have the spending power to infuse the city and its businesses with money.”

LOOKING AT figures for other cities gives an idea of what could be in store for Jerusalem. In 2008 Glasgow hosted 37 international conferences with a total of 20,000 participants that made it NIS 180 million.

Prague, hosting 74 international conferences, made NIS 194 million. Istanbul, hosting 53,000 people in 72 conferences made the city NIS 473 million and industry leader Paris made NIS 660 million from 139 conferences.

Those numbers are not lost on tourism professionals and both the Jerusalem municipal tourism department and the Tourism Ministry have plans in place to market the capital as a prime conference destination.

According to Altman, what’s needed is more cooperation between the different sections of the tourism industry – hotels, convention centers, airlines and conference organizers. “Instead of pooling our resources, it’s each man for himself. Everybody believes they can get the people to come to them and don’t realize that by working together everyone will benefit.”

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