Quality wine and beer flowing like water, Arabs and Jews, of all stripes and types from every corner of the country convened in one place. Lively conversation and discussion going on in every corner. Representatives from about 50 countries invited to share in the fun. This may sound like a modern day Isaiah, a portrayal of the end of days, but it’s a description of the IMTM (international Mediterranean Tourism Market) that took place this week in Tel Aviv. Half the convention Center was dedicated to the Israeli tourism industry and the other half to the rest of the world trying to court Israelis, to come visit their countries.
It’s easy to get depressed by the news in Israel and too many times in my career as a tour guide I have I heard “it’s not a great time for tourism” but none of these sentiments had entry in this week’s convention. Instead – love, enthusiasm and optimism were everywhere. Each region of the country boasted the charms and deep history of their area. People who love what they do were showing and sharing; their pride was infectious. Karina from the famous boutique Chocolate in the Golan Heights, Billie from Dalton wines; wine makers from Tekoa and, (who knew) Eilat, the Neilsons from the Buster’s cider and too many more to mention. Ecological farms run by Kibbutzim in the north and Bedouin in the south were exhibiting opposite each other. Tourism promoters from the Shomron, Binyamin, and Yatir proudly invited tour operators from in Israel and abroad to come visit see the history and beauty of their region; Shared Tourism showed the possibilities and richness of visiting both Arab – Israeli communities and Jewish ones located in the same geographic region. Venues for climbing, caving, sand boarding, ATV’s, horseback riding, beautiful tzimmers were also there, you name it.
This spirit of optimism and pride in the local industry is nothing new for Tel Aviv. As early as 1924 there was already a small exhibition boasting local industry showcasing “made in the land of Israel “(Totseret Haaretz) products. But the Tel Aviv industrialists were thinking big and wanted an international fair. According to one version of the story, the Arab mayor of Jaffa scoffed at the idea of an international fair in Tel Aviv, saying “…when camels fly”; and so it came to pass that the logo for the fair became the flying camel. By 1932 it become widely popular with over 300,000 visitors; Jews, Arab, British and tourists from different countries and was named the international Levant Fair (yerid Hamizrach). In honor of Tel Aviv’s 25th birthday in 1934 they were already building fairgrounds. To this fair 30 different countries were represented, including some Arab neighbors; 600,000 visitors came in the few weeks that the fair was open and at a time when there was only 300,00 Jews in the land. The centerpiece was the Tozeret Haaretz – Made in the Land pavilion designed by the prominent Zionist architect, Richard Kaufman.
Much water has passed in the Yarkon River since then. In the late 50’s the fairgrounds moved to their present location but the same can-do, think-big, and intense pride in the local industry was still palpable this week at the IMTM. The original Yerid Hamizrach fairgrounds have been renovated, and are now part of the extended Tel Aviv port recreational area. A reconstructed, bigger than life, statue of the po’el ha’ivri (hebrew worker) created for the ’36 fair, stands in its original place. Metal wings greet you at the entrance, inviting you to stand in front of them and to have your picture taken, reminding us of the symbolic wings we all have.