Earlier this week I was lucky enough to attend the ITSS, International Tourism Security Summit, here in Jerusalem at the Inbal hotel. One of the people connected to the event asked if I wanted to go as a marketing advocate for Israel. He did not know my background in hospitality and event travel, happy I accepted the offer, huge thank you to Mordecai and Blue Thread Marketing.
The theme of the conference was “Tourism Marketing and Crisis Communication
in a Turbulent World” and sadly, we kind of lead in this topic…in the world’s view. Will get to this point later.
I will not go into all the speakers, you can see who was there from the website. I am going to highlight a few very important presentations for those of us who think we are helping Israel in the public eye. For more coverage and insights please read these write ups and see some photos from Sharon Altshul and Hadassah Levy’s review of the first day both wrote about the conference in ways I will never reach, but I saw and heard things that resonated with me as you will soon see.
There were a few case studies and reviews of the events you know all too well like Las Vegas, Manchester, New York, Cannes, London, Japan, Florida and Puerto Rico. The bottom line for all of these was communication. People on the ground, people in charge, event owners, the press, social media…information needs to get out and be consistent. However, you can not wait for the emergency, you need to be proactive and have your plans ready so you can follow them, not to the letter, but because without any planning there is no logic and you end up with just what the terrorists want, chaos on the ground.
A number of speakers gave Israel great praise for their efforts over the decades against fighting terror, helping the US with 9/11 and afterwards, leading the way while many, many countries kept their heads in the sand. Countries now come to Israel or bring to them experts to help their security efforts. One speaker when discussing how many people died in terrorists attacks and broke down the data to how many terrorists where included in the list joked, but was serious, when he said we (Israel) were responsible for making sure that number was so high.
Rolf Freitag, CEO of IPK International gave an excellent session and made the data from the last few years easy for everyone to understand and visualize. I think the line asking for his slides outdistanced the coffee. He discussed what happens to tourism destinations before and after events, how the countries of the world react to incidents and held us all mesmerized. A curious point, Russians on average are not bothered by incidents and go anywhere, in contrast, Americans are highly bothered and more likely to cancel their plans. I heard from a few tour operators, and other speakers, that this was very true consistently over the last 20+ years.
Isabel Hill, Director National Travel and Tourism Office, U.S. Department of Commerce discussed what the US and the TSA have done and will be doing. While it may bother some people, they will be doing more facial recognition and make it easier to load plans and reduce paper tickets and time for everyone.
Ilanit Melchior, Director of Tourism of the Jerusalem Development Authority told her story about how she got her role and the plans she put in motion for a better Jerusalem future. It takes time, to change the world, the people, the politicians, the press and the plan in place is slowly getting there.
Mor Schlessinger of Google, an Engineering Manager who has been part of the team that helps provided the apps and data for the Google Crisis Response teams. Mor let us know much of the emergency applications and AI efforts in advanced warnings for environmental disasters comes from the Israel offices. They are working on ways to know in advance when, and where, flooding will occur in India. Then the rest of the world. Data saves lives.
Dirk Glaesser, Director Sustainable Development Programme for the UN World Tourism organization, proved a point about objective vs. subjective risk. He compared shark attacks and deaths to coconuts deaths. Yes, coconut deaths. Guess who wins? Guess which one people are afraid of and book their vacations based on reports? There are more coconut related deaths annually than shark attacks or deaths, yet people worry about sharks. Go figure.
Ido Aharoni, a Global Distinguished Professor at NYU gave a very tough to listen to session. It was a great presentation, filled with information, delivered quite well, but aimed squarely at everyone in Israel, and the world, that thinks they are helping Israel when they may be doing quite the opposite. Let me explain.
He showed and discussed focus groups (American participants) that were asked to describe various countries and their citizens daily lives and home styles. The groups did not know it was for Israel and so among the 5-10 countries they were asked about, Israel was one of the countries.
The discussions provided often bewildering discussions and perceptions. Where Italy has bright colors and grass and landscape, Israel is dirty, dusty, stone color and sand. They describe very strict households that look like bunkers and are run by men. Women were almost not even mentioned at all. When asked what a block party looks like in Israel, they said they would not have them, the people are not relaxed or open to having fun.
Why do they think these thoughts about Israel? Ido pointed out, because that is what we portray on social media. We can’t fight the news programs that purposely shoot footage from angles that are meant to maintain those perceptions. Ido works with politicians to shape their sound bytes. Evidently Bibi doesn’t get it yet. Instead of going on and on at the UN about all the bad stuff and start providing the good stuff. Every time he speaks it is covered and it makes the world think we are in a perpetual state of war. We are in some ways, but as a daily routine, this is not the case across the whole country so why perpetuate this bad perception?
This is not to say we should all just post beach pictures or sunsets over the Mediterranean, but we need to do our share of changing perceptions. I know some of you reading this frequently do post the better side of life here in Israel and I share those as well some times. However, are you only sharing to your private bubble, or to the public at large on Facebook? My feed and 98% of it is posted to the world, not just my friends or family or whatever other choices Facebook gives me. Think about it, it is like you are shutting out the world from seeing and experiencing the greatness of our lives here.
Why don’t you post publicly? Unfortunately, especially for women, this turns out to be a problem because internet trolls and other unfriendly people get in the way. I have a suggestion for you, create a Facebook Page or Instagram account with a subject/title, maybe “Sunsets of Israel” or “Mediterranean Beach” and moderate it with your photos and let others add to it as well. You may still have to keep blocking and reporting people, but at least you can post more positive things. We all post about the bad things, recently some have been very hard on us all, and the world sees it, but then doesn’t get the balanced side of good things to change their perceptions.
The world knows about startup nation, but that does not give off an impression of the view from the top of Masada, the views of the Judean hills, skiing at the Hermon, fields of green trees next to desert sand or a golf course in a place supposedly just sand.
Ido’s focus groups also showed Israel is seen as a male led country with women barely mentioned or thought of at all! I was initially surprised, my feed is filled up by awesome women here but then thought about what friends have gone through and why many keep their accounts private.
If I could I would give presentations to tourism conventions around the world about coming to Israel, what security really means to guests, tourists perceptions vs. reality. Almost all the speakers mentioned how safe they felt in Israel, some felt their own home towns were not as safe! These are security and disaster people who really understand the situation, imagine how regular people see it.
We owe it to ourselves, our country and our people worldwide to portray Israel in the best way possible. This is not about religion or politics but about the way we want to be seen in an over reactive world of fake news and ignorance. In other words, do something and do it sooner than later.