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COVID IMMUNITY GIVES NEW HOPE FOR ISRAEL’S TOURISM INDUSTRY

By the end of March, Israel had already vaccinated over 80% of its total population of over nine million inhabitants. The immunity target has thus already been reached and the nation is now working on a third vaccination jab to strengthen its population immunity.

Safety for Israeli locals means restrictions have already been lifted for domestic travel. The country’s travel industry is now preparing to welcome back international travellers from the third quarter, and experts at the Israeli Ministry of Tourism believe that 2022 will see a real tourism boom.

2021 will thus certainly mark a turning point after a devastating year 2020. After receiving 4.55 million international visitors in 2019 (including 0.44 million arrivals from Asia), numbers for the period January-September 2020 point to a decline of 76% in total arrivals. Israel received, during that time, only 780,000 visitors compared to 3.3 million a year before.

Population’s full immunity and Gulf tourism to stimulate demand

In addition to Israel’s benefit of being a safe place to visit, a major stimulus will be the normalisation of relations with countries in the Gulf region. First flights between Israel and the UAE were launched, which will, in return, favour the visit of Gulf travellers to Israel.

The 2020 pandemic and the complete halt of all tourism activities were also an opportunity for Israel’s Ministry of Tourism to rethink many aspects, and try to rebuild tourism in a smarter way. In the past, tourism activities in Israel were too often associated with over-tourism, with the phenomenon of overcrowded holiday areas being particularly perceptible in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and along large resort towns along the Red Sea such as Eilat.

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism has worked hard to shift tourism focus and encourage visitors to go on the discovery of the country’s hidden gems, helping spread the benefits of tourism beyond traditional destinations and taking pressure off popular places such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The government has pushed for the development of new infrastructure outside main sites with a focus on inclusive facilities. Israel is now one of the first countries in the world having made the provision of accessible rooms for disabled people compulsory in all of the country’s hotels.

Facelift for Iconic Tower of David Museum

The “Covid break” has enabled renovation works on the iconic Tower of David museum in Jerusalem to progress much faster than originally planned.  Instead of a three-year process of gradual renovation, the museum has decided to concentrate the work, and the expected time has been halved.

After years of detailed and creative planning, the entrance to the Tower of David Museum will be moved and located on the western side of the citadel, across from the Jaffa Gate, allowing easier and accessible entry to the Museum.  The new entrance pavilion, located in an airy, glass building, contains large underground multi-purpose spaces and will offer modern public services.
 
The Tower of David Museum, located in a walled citadel thousands of years old, is one of the most recognisable symbols of Jerusalem.  Known for hundreds of years as the “lighthouse” of the city, the citadel’s tower served to guide pilgrims approaching Jerusalem from the west, from the sea, and was the first Jerusalem landmark they saw on the horizon.  Pilgrims continued to walk in its direction until they arrived at its base and the gate next to it, Jaffa Gate.

COVID IMMUNITY GIVES NEW HOPE FOR ISRAEL'S TOURISM INDUSTRY
Artist’s simulation of future building planned underneath Jaffa Gate.  Image: Kimmel Eshkolot Architects

Jaffa Gate, the historic main entrance gate to the city, received its name because it is approached from the west – from the city of Jaffa.  In the past, the gate was also referred to as “David’s Gate” because of its proximity to the Tower of David.  During Jerusalem’s long history, the gate connected east and west and was a central meeting point for pilgrims arriving to the city throughout time.  This is also the gate through which emperors and rulers have entered over thousands of years. German Kaiser Wilhelm II entered during his famous visit to the city in Ottoman times and General Allenby strode through as well, ushering in the period of British mandatory rule in the Land of Israel.
 
Now, in the framework of the extensive renovation project at the Tower of David Museum, the Tower and the Gate are reviving their historic connection. The museum entrance will relocate from the eastern to the western side of the citadel, across from Jaffa Gate.  The area known as “David’s Garden” – an expansive area on the museum grounds – will contain the new pavilion.

The new entrance pavilion will allow comfortable access from the western neighbourhoods of Jerusalem to the eastern side beyond the Old City walls – to the Citadel, the Museum and the Old City, and to Jerusalem’s exciting story that combines the old with the new, bridging history and renewal.  The new entrance will reinstate the status of the Tower of David as entry point to the Old City and will allow thousands of visitors to experience the past, the present and the future of Jerusalem in a sensory, exciting, powerful way.  This encounter will be another chapter in the continuing, multifaceted story of this marvellous city. 

The new western entry presented many challenges for museum staff and designers. How can the entrance to a walled citadel be made accessible to thousands of visitors?  How to renew the site without harming its valuable, historic structure?

Five years of creative, meticulous planning were required in order to formulate the right solution.  Visitors will be able to reach the new entrance through an impressive intersection, constructed in the large public space near Jaffa Square that will offer direct, accessible entry to the Tower of David Museum, Jaffa Gate and Mamilla Street.  The change will create a revolution not only for the museum’s exterior, but also for all patterns of movement within the museum and will impact visitors’ experience.

The entrance courtyard will include a sunken glass building containing an information booth, ticket sales office, coffee shop, cloak room, bathrooms, and a spectacular Contemporary Gallery.  From this area, the visitor will pass to the introductory gallery in an ancient crusader hall. From here, the visitor can choose the nature of the visit to the museum and the desired route.

Two elevators will provide access enabling people with disabilities to visit all parts of the museum.  Accessibility will also be facilitated with wide paths throughout the Museum and the integration of advanced infrastructure within the building itself, including electric and technological infrastructure and audio and acoustic systems and all without harming the appearance of the Citadel and its historic value.

The Kimmel Eshkolot Architectural firm grappled with the challenge of museum renewal and accessibility. “This is an architectural challenge which is demanding and very interesting, requiring great sensitivity,” says architect Prof. Etan Kimmel.  “Our biggest dilemma was to create an innovative entrance pavilion, but with a design that doesn’t compete with the ancient Citadel but rather integrates into its context.  The entrance pavilion is planned as a ground-level chamber in the courtyard of “David’s Garden” – this will be a modern, clear, glass building appropriate for the 21st century, but giving due respect to the ancient Citadel located at its side without trying to imitate the ancient building,” he detailed.

In the future, an additional two projects are planned for the site. 

One will be located under the bridge which connects the Mamilla Mall to Jaffa Gate, and will link the courtyard of the museum entrance pavilion to the excavated archaeological site that includes remains from Roman-Byzantine Jerusalem.  The project includes construction of an educational centre dedicated to Jerusalem’s history, including an auditorium and classrooms in order to serve the thousands of visitors who come to Jerusalem every year to learn about the city today and understand the past.

The second project will focus on the Kishle – a 19th century Ottoman building erected on ancient remains.  A new Herodian Wing and multi-media archaeology site will take visitors through Jerusalem’s rich history while focusing on the experience of archaeology to discover the past. The curated experience will provide an exciting and immersive way to understand the people and events who made the city’s history.

Yet another good reason for tourists to flock to Israel as soon as flights resume.

Photo – top of page: Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo by Sander Crombach / Unsplash

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