The Tourism Ministry Looks Forward

A screenshot of the new "iSrael" app at the iPhone app store.

I have said before that I am fairly pleased with the current direction that the Ministry of Tourism is taking. I can’t say I like every single thing they’ve done, but overall I think they are working very hard at increasing the numbers of tourists visiting here. They have stated their goal is to attract an extra 1 million tourists per year by 2012. And with tourism numbers here continuing their steady rise, it seems like they are accomplishing their goals.

But luckily, the Ministry is not just focusing on bringing tourists in, by removing entry visas and advertising around the world. They also apparently recognize that improving the tourist experience within Israel is equally important.

And so, in keeping with the forward-thinking nature of the Ministry’s social media campaigns, they have continued to leverage the technologies of the moment to improve the experience for incoming tourists. On Sunday, the Ministry launched iSrael — an app for the iPhone that is designed to enhance the Israeli tourism experience.

The application will take advantage of the iPhone’s built in GPS, allowing users to find attractions, accommodations or tourist routes in their vicinity. Alternatively, it can be used to plan itineraries in advance. The app is of course brand new and not as comprehensive as they intend it to be, but it is a start, and there are many plans for improvements and expanded capabilities (including allowing tourists to connect with Facebook or Twitter through the application). According to this article, while the app is currently only available on the iPhone, the plan is to adapt it for other devices.

Another screen shot, showing the menu.

I don’t know if any other countries have begun to take advantage of current technologies to push tourism the way that Israel has. But whether they have or haven’t, I’m proud to see Israel making these efforts, and I believe they will pay off nicely. One of the Hebrew comments on the app’s page at the app store indicated that it was useful also for internal tourists, not just incoming ones, which can say a lot about the quality of the product.

Furthermore, I think it fits beautifully with Israel’s image of a nation that has emerged as being at the forefront of technological development. I am not saying that iSrael is a brilliant innovation, or groundbreaking in any way. But when people read books such as Start-Up Nation, and they hear of the wonderful advances that our country’s companies make in so many high-tech fields, it only seems appropriate that they can comfortably utilize contemporary (and ubiquitous) technologies while they are on their trips here.

Some might think it strange for me to be mentioning this app, seeing it as future competition that could make tourguides obsolete. I can’t imagine that ever happening. Nothing can beat the experience of having a good guide making the location come alive for you. And there will always be a large number of tourists who come here and guide themselves anyway. This app will make the experience better for them, encouraging them to come back, and/or to tell their friends to come. And some of those tourists will be hiring guides as well.

So thank you to the Ministry of Tourism for taking another step forward, embracing the possibilities of modern technology to improve tourism in Israel. Keep up the good work.

I don’t have an iPhone, but if you do, download the iSrael app. It’s free, after all! And I’d love to hear feedback on the app in the comments below, if you have any.

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