For many years, Israel set itself a goal of two million tourists per annum, and even though links between Diaspora Jewry and Israel were closer then than they are now, the target remained elusive until recent years, when it was not only achieved but passed with a record last year of 3.6 million tourists, who ignored the ructions in the region and opted for Israel.
This was a real feather in the cap of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who expects an even higher figure this year, given that the number of tourists for the first half of 2018 has already passed two million.
No wonder there are so many new hotels and hostels popping up all over the country. Levin is expected to share forecasts for the final endof- year figure for incoming tourism at the Tourism Conference 2018, to take place on Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
Although Israel spends a lot of money on tourist promotions and attractions, it doesn’t always take tourist needs into account. For most tourists, Hebrew is an esoteric language which they cannot read or understand. Yet there are insufficient signs in English, Russian and French at bus stops and in other public areas. There are not enough city maps at major intersections, and tourists can frequently be seen squinting at tiny maps in their cellphones instead of having access to maps that give them a broad sweep of the city.
In some other parts of the world, there are uniformed voluntary tour guides who essentially answer questions on how to get from one place to the next, the exchange rate on foreign currency, the location of the nearest public toilet and a host of other things that tourists want to know. Israel would do well to encourage volunteerism of this kind.
Jerusalem, which is one of the destinations of almost every visitor to the country, is operating a pilot project whereby drivers of buses within the city no longer accept money. Not all drivers speak English, so they can’t even tell the tourist where to go to purchase a ticket or a travel card. There’s no reason the tourist should have to find such a place. Every hotel should have a card-issuing facility, so that when tourists check in, a card is automatically placed on their bill and they are told how to use it.
One improvement that did take place in recent days was the opening of an information center for tourists at the Jaffa Clock Tower, with Levin and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai doing the honors.
■ THE HEBREW University’s Entrepreneur Center, known as HUstart, which fosters innovation among students and researchers, has appointed Dr. Amnon Dekel as managing director. Dekel has been tasked with spearheading HUstart’s national and international programs, and transforming the center into a major influencer in Jerusalem and beyond.
“HUstart can lead the way in helping to disrupt the traditional role of academia vis-à-vis industry and establish itself as a focal point to grow and release the huge amount of creative energy at HU in viable business directions,” said Dekel. “A multidisciplinary approach is key to ensuring that our universities and academic institutions remain relevant and vibrant places of innovation and originality.”
The new leadership will develop tools that integrate the concepts of ideation and entrepreneurship into the academic fiber of the university.
Through academic courses and exploratory workshops and labs, the center will create opportunities for a greater cross section of HU students and faculty to develop ideas that they can turn into practical models of innovation.
HU vice president and director- general Yishai M. Fraenkel, adds: “Over the years we have seen a number of high-profile companies emerge from the Hebrew University.
Sitting in the capital of the Start-Up Nation, Hebrew University plays a leading role in providing a fertile infrastructure for innovation.
HUstart’s new leadership will nurture ideation among the HU community so that it will lead our partners in the Jerusalem ecosystem.”
As part of the strategy to establish HU and Jerusalem itself as a nexus of research and commercial opportunity, Dekel will foster new collaborations with existing Jerusalem institutions from various sectors and communities, including other academic institutions, industry leaders, government, the IDF, and the vast Hebrew University network.
A HU alumnus, Dekel holds a PhD from the university’s Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering and was recently chairman of the department of software engineering at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. He has founded three companies, serves as an adviser and mentor to several start-ups, lectures and teaches widely, and is the author of numerous papers.
HUstart also appointed Ayelet Cohen as deputy director. Cohen brings experience in building strategic innovation and entrepreneur projects and platforms. She previously worked at Start-Up Nation Central and co-founded Google Educators Groups in Israel. She has also worked with the Jerusalem Development Authority and Siftech. In these roles, she identified challenges in the Jerusalem ecosystem to find solutions and develop strategies to advance the hi-tech environment in Jerusalem and build communities to reach these goals.
Dr. Yaron Daniely, CEO and president of Yissum, the university’s transfer technology company, welcomed the move to establish HUstart as a key center of entrepreneurship in Jerusalem. “Our preparedness for the drastic transformations occurring globally in education and innovation will decide the fate of our university and its role in the Israeli innovation scene.
HUstart embodies our commitment to our faculty and students to seek opportunities for value co-creation and enhancement.”
Eyal Haimovsky, CEO of the Jerusalem Development Authority, sees the new development as a progressive step. “The existence of high-quality academic institutions in Israel’s capital city has the technological, human and economic potential to continue to establish Jerusalem as a global innovation center and leading ecosystem for the development of start-ups and biomedical companies,” he said. “This ongoing collaboration between industry and academia is reflected in a variety of directions, including enabling access to university clinics and experts, leveraging research methodologies to optimize critical stages in the product development process, fostering profitable connections between Jerusalem-based companies and students and graduates, and creating designated academic courses according to the industry’s changing needs.”
HUstart is a joint venture of Hebrew University’s Faculty of Science, the Business School and Yissum. It was launched in 2015 through the generosity of the Asper Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
■ UMM EL-FAHM has a new shopping mall, established by investors Rani Zim and Yoav Kaplan of Zim Centers (50%) and Ran Steinman and Avishai Avraham of Midas, who collectively invested around NIS 70 million in the project. Known as the Seven Mall, it was officially opened last week.
This is their first shopping mall in the Arab sector. It covers an area of 20,000 square meters, of which 9,000 square meters is built up, and parking is adjacent, with room for 500 vehicles.
Among those present at the festive opening were Umm el-Fahm Mayor Khaled Hamdan Aghbariyya and Deputy Mayor Wissam Qahawash. Stores in the mall feature all the familiar brand names that are found in other malls throughout the country, though in some cases the merchandise differs, to be closer to Arab tastes and traditions.
■ THE SETTLEMENT Division of the World Zionist Organization last week celebrated its 50th anniversary and received a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. President Reuven Rivlin came in person to the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to offer his congratulations and to say that settling the land is the unifying element between the political Left and the political Right. The settlement movement includes Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim, alongside Amana right-wing moshavim, and veteran kibbutzim and moshavim are adjacent to relatively new development towns. This network of settlements, many of which are located in border areas, he said, provide a defense shield for the rest of the country.
Acknowledging the difficulties of living alongside fences that separate Israel from its enemies, Rivlin said to the assembled representatives of settlements: “The State of Israel owes you a great debt. When the enemy looks at us, he sees the strength of settlement and our ability to withstand all challenges.”
Noting that there are kibbutzim and moshavim that have been in existence for much longer than 50 years, Rivlin said: “We returned home, and we will not move from here again.” Netanyahu, in his message, said that the settlement division had for half a century partnered with the government and had been an executive arm for the implementation of government decisions.
Also attending the jubilee event were Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, several MKs and members of the upper echelons of the WZO. Despite the admirable achievements of the kibbutzim and moshavim, Gael Greenwald, who heads the Settlement Division, warned that Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Even in 2018, there is a need to strengthen the border and to defend national territory, he said. In addition to that, the Settlement Division wants to offer a different lifestyle to people who would prefer not to live in the concrete jungle.