In the company of senior representatives from more than 50 countries in the global tourism industry, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism presented its developments and innovations for 2020 at the recent International Mediterranean Tourism Market (IMTM) conference in Tel Aviv.

The fair not only represents the flagship event of the Israeli tourism industry, but also the largest tourism fair in the greater Middle East.

During the two-day fair from Feb. 11-12 in Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism held a series of lectures and panels that presented several of the reforms and marketing-policy initiatives spearheaded that have led to record-breaking incoming tourism figures. Topics included, among many, accessibility in tourism and the development of the Negev as a tourism brand and leading tourism destination in Israel.

The 26th conference took place after a record-breaking year for incoming tourism with more than 4.5 million tourists in 2019—a 55 percent increase in just three years.

“Today, it is clear that tourism is a very significant economic growth engine for the State of Israel,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “We recently ended 2019 with an injection of more than NIS 22 billion (nearly $6.5 billion) into the Israeli economy from tourism. I am optimistic for 2020, and believe that the reforms and innovative steps we are spearheading will bear fruit this year as well, despite the budgetary challenges we are expecting to face.”

IMTM 2020’s opening event, held in Jerusalem, featured an exhibition of booths, food and 11 travel technology startups. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion attended the gala, as did ministers and ambassadors from Nepal, the Republic of Srpska (Serb Republic), Greece, Honduras, Equatorial Guinea, Slovak Republic, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Georgia.

In his address, Lion referred to the IMTM event as a “fulfillment of the words of Micah, who prophesized that all the nations of the world will come to Jerusalem.” He said it correctly portrays Jerusalem as a city thousands of years old, which birthed the world’s oldest faith, and yet, it is “a modern capital city and center of commerce” with flourishing technology.

Nofar Nistani, director of Jerusalem Entrepreneurs Tourism Hub for the Jerusalem Development Authority, expressed her pride in exposing guests from around the world to Israeli innovation and the future of tourism. “Israel has much to show, and we want to do it with technology and startups,” she told JNS.

Yaturu, an augmented-reality/virtual-reality company that produces walking tours of ancient Israel for tourists, was one of the featured startups at the International Mediterranean Tourism Market in Tel Aviv from Feb. 11-12, 2020. Photo by Eliana Rudee.

‘The power to connect the Diaspora to its roots’

Yaturu, an augmented-reality/virtual-reality company that produces walking tours of ancient Israel for tourists, was one of the featured startups, co-founded by Jonathan Dyne, an immigrant to Jerusalem from Sydney, Australia.

“Our goal is that when a person puts on our glasses and [virtually] stands in the Temple of King David, we can recreate it to better understand what it was like and have a sense of the history, so when they take off the glasses, they’ll have a better appreciation for the place,” Dyne told JNS.

Ariel Karen, an Israeli actor and the emcee at the International Mediterranean Tourism Market conference in Tel Aviv, presented by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, Feb. 11-12, 2020. Photo by Eliana Rudee.

Dyne says Yaturu’s virtual augmented tours, which are based in biblical Jerusalem, have the power to connect the Diaspora to its roots. “The story we tell is about Jewish roots in Jerusalem—it is based in the Kotel [Western Wall], the City of David and the dramas of King Solomon, King Hezekiah and Prophet Jeremiah—the essence of Jewish history in Jerusalem and Israel as a whole,” he said.

Dyne’s company has benefited from the growth of tourism in Jerusalem, he maintained, allowing further development of educational tours in the United States, Singapore and Costa Rica.

Ella Stahl, vice president of sales for Jerusalem-based trip-planning startup Gamitee, similarly referred to how the growth of tourism in Israel positively impacts her company and vice versa—how her company aims to positively impact Israel in return.

“As an Israeli travel startup, we are strongly and positively affected by the rise of tourism to Israel. Over the past few years, there have been many initiatives aimed at increasing tourism to Israel, and we are proud to take part in some of them,” she told JNS.

Gamitee, she explained, offers consumers planning their vacations a more streamlined process. Like a “WhatsApp group plus a wish list,” individuals can invite their travel companions to the website, cutting down the time it takes to plan a vacation. In return, clients are more likely to consume travel products and services on their trip, thereby contributing to the receiving economy.

“We offer our clients a more convenient way to book their vacations,” said Stahl, “and are hoping to see our tool put to use by the many more tourists who are now visiting Israel.”

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