Thousands of tourists will visit Tel Aviv next month in order to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Optimistic forecasts talk about 10,000 but what is important is not the numbers but the kind of time they have here and whether tourism services providers adopt the motto, "Be nice to tourists."
Israel is ready - and probably better late than never - to welcome tourists with open arms. Taxi drivers have been sent to courses in offering courteous service, and some taxis will even have stickers inside setting out fares for journeys. Tel Aviv Municipality has started providing detailed information in English about bus routes and a stand has been set up at Ben Gurion airport to sell special tourist Rav-Kav public transport cards. The biq question is not why these things are finally happening but rather why they haven't happened before.
A record 4.1 million tourists visited Israel last year - an average of 340,000 per month. In the first quarter of 2019, this figure was up 14%. Many of those who have already visited may not return if they had a negative experience in terms of services provided. Only time will tell, if we have currently reached a turning point.
It's about time that we started respecting tourists. Not only the visitors to the Eurovision Song Contest but the hundreds who will come the same week for the Biomed 2019 life sciences conference and exhibition and the thousands who come for the Gay Parade and the millions of others who come to Israel.
To change what must be changed
In the warmup to the Eurovision Song Contest, Tel Aviv Global (which promotes tourism to the city) CEO Eytan Schwartz said in a press conference that, "We are using the Eurovision Song Contest to confront the challenges of a city and a country and change what needs to be changed. We know that they say it is difficult to find your feet here and we know that public spaces are not always of the highest standard. They say that it is expensive here. Ron Huldai (Tel Aviv Mayor) has asked us to deal with these challenges and to set up a platform that will serve us in the future."
Schwartz says that a website is being set up at an investment of NIS 1 million that will let tourists have information about what is happening in the city. In addition Tel Aviv's signs "have undergone improvement and supervision of prices on beaches has been upgraded."
Why hasn't all this happened before? In chasing after 5 million tourists per years, something was overlooked. It's very important to bring tourists here but just as important to provide them with a positive experience once they're here.
Tourists considering a trip to Israel receive plenty of information from the media depicting us as being in a war zone. Tourists that do come usually get a completely opposite impression. Israel is an attractive destination with impressive potential but it is an expensive destination. Tourism services must give visitors fair value for their money, whether or not fares are displayed publicly in taxis.
Schwartz says, "As a tourist destination, transport is a big challenge for us. Our standard is far from the norm in Europe. In every taxi in Europe there is a sticker telling you how much journeys cost, what tip is recommended to leave, and how much each extra passenger, suitcase etc. costs. There is a telephone number to contact if you think you are being cheated. What does all this achieve? It means you can be a city worthy of holding international events. We are below par in terms of implementing fairs and conferences. If we can succeed in creating satisfaction, we'll be on the field with the major players."
The Tel Aviv Municipality has taken the unprecedented step of operating public transport for the Eurovision Song Contest on Friday night and Saturday. It seems like the event is becoming a catalyst for change.
Are tourists satisfied or suffering
Despite the potential, not everybody is getting too excited. Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association director Yossi Fattal says, "It'll take more than a sticker in a taxi to solve the problem. The issue of service must be continual. It's education from the roots that can't be summed up by a workshop or a sticker. I don't think anyone really believes that the level of service in Tel Aviv will be improved by all the hype surrounding Eurovision."
"Measuring the quality of professionalism during the tourism experience chain must be tested by rating the experience of tourists, from the moment they land, until they leave the country. At present there are no professional tools provided by the government top get any sort of feedback from service providers in the experience chain and it's easy for a negative experience to be pushed to the side. Is the tourist satisfied or suffering? Are they getting value for their money? There are standard tools to measure this. The tourist experience has science and doctrines that are not just declarative."
"In practice, except for an annual survey with some questions asked of tourists who visit, no investigation is made into the time they spend here, at the airport, in the hotel, and at the various tourist sites. There are tools and applications for doing this but they aren't being used. People forget that tourists are describing their experience and satisfaction during their visit on social media. Anybody looking at what is happening at the airport where tourists are confronted by inspectors who aren't always the most polite and that's an understatement, or when they get into the taxi, would understand that there is a lot that must be done.
Fattal mentions the types of complaints that his office receives. There are special rates for tourists in taxis and various products and services in markets and restaurants. "My expectation is that the government would fine a business, which profits from tourist prices. It doesn't happen because Israeli law protects the consumer but not the tourist. A tourist that gets cheated won't sue the business or write a complaint. To say that that is also the norm in other countries is an outrageous answer. Everyone knows that we are bigger wheeler-dealers than in other places. When you get into a taxi in London you know that you are not going to be cheated. Why is it so typical of Israel that you know that when a tourist gets into a taxi, it will end in some sort of incident?"
Increasing the number of tourists coming to Israel is not only an important task in economic terms but also in terms of Israel's international image.
Fattal adds that Israeli tourism is also being harmed because demand is outstripping supply. "We are in a situation of surplus demand and that's bad. There are more tourists than infrastructures and so it's no problem to cut service levels and raise prices. And not only that. When there is surplus demand, the experience is also hit by congestion and long lines at the sought after sites. This can and must be managed but in a country where no standards have been set on relations and conduct towards tourists, it simply isn't going to happen. If you want to increase the number of tourists by 500,000 per year, it will only deepen the crisis and will come about at the expense of the satisfaction and service to tourists. Somebody needs to wake up."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 24, 2019
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