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I’ve been going to TBEX (Travel Bloggers’ Exchange) conferences for a few years now. They’re a great way to catch up with blogging trends and to network with fellow bloggers. I also enjoy exploring the host city and finding out what is important to the local tourist board. So when I went to London’s World Travel Market in November I took the opportunity to chat to the Jerusalem Development Agency about what to expect at this year’s TBEX International in Jerusalem.

Mamilla Mall, Jerusalem

The Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem (photo courtesy of the JDA)

Jerusalem Development Agency

St Paul Hostel, Jerusalem

On the balcony of the St Paul Hostel, Jerusalem (photo courtesy of the JDA)

ThetJerusalem Development Agency (JDA) is one of the sponsors for TBEX International. I spoke to Rosanna North (sales and marketing rep from the JDA), and followed up with Emma Byrne (their PR rep). I started by asking them which aspects of Jerusalem they were hoping to promote at TBEX.

Tayelet, Jerusalem

The Tayelet, or Promenade (photo courtesy of the JDA)

Rosanna explained that tourists were well aware of what Jerusalem has to offer in terms of historic and religious heritage. However there is much more to the city than this. Jerusalem has a modern infrastructure and a vibrant cultural scene. It has luxury hotels but also great hostels for the budget conscious. It has developed world class restaurants (both Rosanna and Emma emphasised the range and quality of contemporary Jerusalem cuisine). All of this makes it an excellent destination for a city break.

Challenging Perceptions at TBEX International

Halva

Different flavours of halva, a traditional dessert (Photo courtesy of the JDA)

Tourist boards have varying motivations for hosting TBEX. It might be to promote a less well visited area, or to show a destination in a different light. For instance, the conference in Lloret de Mar demonstrated to bloggers (and their audiences) that the Costa Brava was much more than sun, sand and sangria. I asked Rosanna and Emma if they hoped that TBEX International would challenge visitor preconceptions about Jerusalem.

Ben Yehuda Mural, Jerusalem

Ben Yehuda Mural (photo courtesy of the JDA)

They both said they wanted to show the modern cultural side of the city. And they wanted people to feel safe in the city, and to understand that their security was taken seriously. However, Emma emphasised that the JDA didn’t want to prejudice bloggers’ expectations and experiences – they would “just like people to come and enjoy the city”.

Political Concerns

Bar in Jerusalem

A lively bar in Jerusalem (photo courtesy of the JDA)

But, I asked, what about the political situation? Bloggers will have opinions on political tensions in Israel that have been shaped by the media, and they will want to report on what they find when they get there. Rosanna told me that people would discover a diverse multicultural community in Jerusalem. It is a melting pot of different cultures; this is particularly apparent in the food.

In the interests of balance I also spoke to Sami Khoury of Visit Palestine. His organisation covers the historic area of the “Holy Land” (Israel, Palestine and Jordan), attracting Christian tourists and those who are interested in politics. He felt that “Palestinian” sites such as East Jerusalem and Bethlehem were comparatively neglected by the Israeli tourist agencies. His aim was to promote the region by appealing to independent travellers, and by promoting additional activities such as hiking.

There are obviously many different perspectives on Jerusalem and Israel. I look forward to exploring them for myself and reporting back to you.

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