The Israel Ministry of Tourism, in cooperation with regional tourism associations, the Hotels Association, and the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, held its annual “Where Else” convention in Israel for the seventh consecutive year. The event hosted over 130 international tour operators, agents and company owners from the world travel industry from a diversity of countries including the USA, Brazil, Canada, Ukraine, Philippines, France, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Russia, China, India, Switzerland, Sweden and Mexico. Most of the agents represent companies that have yet to market tourism packages to Israel.

The conference took place over six days running from November 30 to December 6 and presented an opportunity for attendees to travel between regions and experience sites across Israel, with a choice of one of four tours: The City Break: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv tour; the North: Religion and history lifestyle tour; Active Desert Tour; and Eilat and the Desert tour.

Participants gathered at Rothschild Allenby Market for the opening event which featured an evening of culinary tasting, before departing on an evening tour of the city. All tours followed an initial schedule in Tel Aviv, including a Tel Aviv and Jerusalem hoteliers workshop at the David InterContinental Hotel Tel Aviv. Participants were also taken on a tour of Rothschild Boulevard, the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, the New Station Compound and Jaffa, before splitting into their chosen categories.

The groups gathered together in Jerusalem towards the end of the conference for a tourism presentation at the Mamilla Hotel, tours of the Old City, the City of David and Mahane Yehuda Market, a hotel inspection and highlights of the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum.

The closing event was a dinner at the recently inaugurated Orient Jerusalem Hotel. Eli Nahmias, Director – Incoming Tourism & International Relations for the Jerusalem Development Authority welcomed participants, stating: “We hope that even this small taste of Jerusalem will entice you to return. You need at least a four to five day package to really experience everything this city has to offer.” Other speakers on the night included Sales and Incoming Tourism Manager of the Isrotel chain, Benny Levy, and Israel Ministry of Tourism CMO Marketing Administration, Hilit Megged Bergbaum.

ITN spoke with a number of participants about their experiences, with their (edited) remarks below.

Yamonee Barboro, Vacation Specialist, Yam Travel, Chicago
“I took part in the Eilat and the Desert tour, which was very interesting as I was searching new opportunities for customized adventure tours in Israel. There’s so much to do in this area, from cycling, desert trails, hiking and climbing Masada, which was a personal highlight, given that I studied geography. In addition, Camel Ranch Eilat was very unqiue, as was floating in the Dead Sea, experiences you simply can’t find anywhere else. The new Ramon International Airport will make it much simpler for clients to reach Eilat, but I’m also keen to promote Tel Aviv as a tourist destination. Commercially speaking it’s very impressive and there is something there for every type of visitor.”

Lina Dudarenko, Head of Israel & Georgia Department, Join UP!, Ukraine
“I took part in the Lifestyle tour, which featured stops at various cities in the north, including Old Akko and Netanya, both of which are interesting ports for excursion tours. I was also impressed by Tel Aviv’s development since I last visited as it’s changing at such an incredible pace and provides something of cultural interest for everyone. We book packages for all ages and types of traveler, usually around a week to 10 days in length, and I’m especially interested to report back on the influx of new boutique properties which provides a nice diversity to other accommodation options across the country.”

Pam Sofferin, Global Travel International, Detroit, Michigan
“I first came to Israel in 1968 and even after visiting 10 years later, I was amazed at the changes, so you can imagine what developments I’ve witnessed since. The modernization of Jerusalem to more than just a city of religion, and Tel Aviv as a city of cuisine and culture, are just a sample of what’s changed. I took part in the Eilat and the Desert tout as I’d never seen this part of the country and it’s provided me with many ideas in which to sell packages to clients. The types of activities on offer in the south are suitable for many types of traveler, including FIT and families who wish to explore a different side to country, and given the level of activities available, this region is very sellable.”

Patricia Jones, Globe Us Israel, New York
“I work alongside churches to send between two to three groups to Israel a year, normally with around 20 participants for up to 11 days. My experience visiting Jerusalem is unforgettable and brought me so much closer to the bible, to see and feel the surrounding of where Jesus once lived. I’m more inspired to sell Holy Land packages so that more people can experience this transformational trip. There really is nowhere else like Israel and the feeling of seeing sites such as the Sea of Galilee and Mount of Olives is so uniquely inspiring.”