Not many 20-somethings get the chance to visit Israel. You can imagine my surprise when an invite to attend Jerusalem’s first-ever familiarization trip came my way. Without hesitation, I jumped at the opportunity—not only would I get to cover a new meetings market for our magazines (stay tuned for our fall issue, featuring a detailed site visit on Jerusalem), but I would also experience the Middle East for the first time and see all the Biblical spots I had been reading about since childhood.
The timing of the trip was worrisome. My sister was getting married the day after the trip ended, meaning I’d have to trust my international flight wouldn’t delayed or run into any issues on the return trip (risky business!). Regardless, I hopped on a plane and prepared myself for a week of experiencing a new culture, seeing historic architecture dating back 3,000 years, and touring gorgeous hotels and meeting spaces.
Hosted by the Jerusalem CVB
, which was established one year ago and already has grown the city’s convention business by 215 percent, the weeklong FAM in June gathered nearly 50 planners from 20 different countries. Here are a few key takeaways that may be useful to planners considering a meeting in the Holy Land.
The Dead Sea is a must.
You can’t travel all the way to Israel without swimming in the Dead Sea. It’s almost a 2-hour bus ride from Jerusalem to the country’s Dead Sea port, but the drive is well worth it. The activity was a refreshing way to end a sweaty day of Jeep tours around the Judean Desert, where we explored caves and took in sweeping sea views from atop Mount Sodom.
The CVB is upfront about safety concerns.
The first thing everyone asked me when I returned from my trip was, “Did you feel safe?” It’s a valid question and one the CVB doesn’t take lightly. Israel has a history of religious and cultural tension, but it’s important to remember the country is a modern one.
The CVB knows meeting planners often book years in advance, and committing to a city sensitive to geopolitical change can be nerve-wracking. So, they’ve invested millions of dollars into a safety net procedure that will refund a conference in the event of cancelation due to crisis.
To answer the question, yes, I felt safe during my trip in Jerusalem. I played it smart and stuck with my group and didn’t go anywhere alone. There is a heavy military presence in Israel, so I knew I would see soldiers holding guns and keeping a watchful eye. Military service is mandatory for Israelis, so it’s a part of the daily lifestyle you should expect to see on your trip too.
Expect high tech.
As home to more than 500 startups and a thriving biomed community, Jerusalem is a hub for tech and innovation. In turn, the city put a special focus on event tech during our trip, handing me a tablet equipped with 3G data upon my arrival that I could use throughout the visit. It functioned as a wireless hot spot for all my devices (a life-saver for international travel) as well as a resource thanks to the comprehensive conference app the CVB created specifically for our stay. The app included the FAM schedule, a live polling system used during presentations, a participant email list, a planner’s guide and more.
Set aside time for an immersive tour of Old City Jerusalem.
You don’t have to be religious to marvel at the wonder that is Old City Jerusalem, as it dates back 3,000 years. Split into quarters—Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian—the Old City is so rich in history, you need days to see everything.
With a jam-packed schedule, our time in the Old City was limited to a three-hour tour, where we hit some of the main religious sites including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the Christian site where Jesus is said to have been crucified, buried and resurrected) and the Wailing Wall (located in the Jewish Quarter, a barrier and prayer site in front of the Temple Mount). Because June is the holy month of Ramadan, access to the Muslim-operated Temple Mount was limited and we weren’t allowed to visit. It is accessible to tourists and non-Muslims, but only during certain hours of the day.
Cats rule the city.
As a proud cat lady, I was like a kid in a candy store walking down the streets of Jerusalem. Everywhere I turned, wild cats ran in droves—some were overtly friendly, while others were timid. Don’t worry, dog people; they mean no harm. It’s one of those unexpected quirks of the city that you’ll undoubtedly notice when you host a meeting there.
So, should you take your meeting to Jerusalem?
In my opinion, absolutely. It’s a bucket-list destination attendees fawn over, and it has the infrastructure to handle large-scale meetings and conventions. Jerusalem has more than 11,000 hotel rooms and a mix of meeting spaces, accommodating events from an exhibition for 10,000 people at ICC Jerusalem International Convention Center; to a banquet dinner at Zedekiah’s Cave hidden within the Old City; to a seminar at Israel Museum or The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.