“To raise Jerusalem up from poverty” is the goal that Nir Barkat, an active member of the city council and a serial entrepreneur, has set for himself. Barkat’s decision to devote himself to his hometown led him to found non-profit organization StartUp Jerusalem in 2004. The organization tries to take advantage of everything the city has to offer that has not yet been sufficiently exploited by paying consumers.
Explains Barkat, “For many years culture in Jerusalem was intended for local residents only. Surveys we took indicated that only five percent of tourists who come to the city enjoy its cultural events. This happens for two main reasons. The first is that tourists are not at all aware of these impressive events, and the second is that the events are not always friendly to non-Hebrew speakers.”
The surprising results have caused Barkat and his staff to take action. “We decided to create a situation in which both sides benefit,” he says. “The city needs a large number of tourists, and they will come if it is able to provide them with both the tourist aspect and the cultural aspect.
“It’s important to note that there is great competition between Jerusalem and many other cities around the world, and that Jerusalem must take advantage of its religious and historical assets, but also its cultural assets, which are important to a significant segment of the population that is now going to other places.”
People from around the world who are interested in cultural tourism will be attracted to Jerusalem in two ways. Today, Wednesday, StartUp Jerusalem launches its new English-language web site, Gojerusalem , which is geared toward anyone looking for a vacation abroad.
The organization has invested about a half a million dollars in the site, which is funded by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and other donors. Gojerusalem includes a large amount and a large variety of information on the city, its sites, and its variegated culture.
“In various cities around the world,” says Barkat, “there is a joint initiative involving both the public and the private sector. In our case, the initiative and the funding are private only.”
Have you approached Jerusalem City Hall for support?
“Of course. We proposed that they join our initiative but we were turned down without explanation. Not only did the city not join; there were even certain attempts to make this fail by supporting competing initiatives.”
Here we should mention that Barkat ran in the past against current Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, and lost. Today he is speaker of the opposition in the Jerusalem City Council, and is considered a bitter opponent of some of Lupolianski’s actions.
The response from city hall is that “Jerusalem City Hall has been running a web site for about a year and a half to promote local tourism, and the site has won a great deal of praise and a great many hits from all over the world. Jerusalem has a great many private sites, and city hall welcomes every initiative that contributes to promoting the city. City hall is not familiar with the web site in question.”
In addition to the giant portal, which will be translated into other languages in the future and marketed aggressively abroad, StartUp Jerusalem is also working on projects in Jerusalem.
“During the past year we convened dozens of tourism and cultural officials for joint discussions,” says Ilanit Melchior, StartUp Jerusalem’s Cluster Manager for Tourism and Culture.
“We discovered that although all the people have been living next to each other for many years, they don’t know about each other and are not cooperating with the goal of creating new, interesting, and different content for the tourist who comes to Jerusalem.”
StartUp Jerusalem’s initiative has led to birthright students attending a performance of Vertigo, a Jerusalem modern dance troupe, which showed them another aspect of life in the Land of Israel.
The management of Jerusalem’s Khan Theater has also decided to include an English translation for three of its shows. StartUp Jerusalem made the match between the donor who gave the money for the translation project, and the Khan Theater.
In addition, the organization’s web site has tour packages divided on the basis of Jerusalem’s three religions, as well as a tour of boutique wineries in the Jerusalem hills, information about exhibitions in Jerusalem, and information on places where families can hold weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the like. All the East Jerusalem sites are listed as part of Jerusalem’s ethnic, tourist, and cultural uniqueness.
Reproduced with permission: Ynet