Israel steps up as a tourist destination and source of business innovation for the UK

The Institute of Travel and Tourism conference took place in Tel Aviv from 6-8 June and saw nearly 400 leaders from the UK travel industry visit Israel, many for the first time.  In terms of UK-Israel relations, the fact that ITT brought a significant proportion of the UK tour operator community to Israel was nothing short of a triumph.  Household names from Thomas Cook and Tui, to Monarch and Mark Warner found themselves experiencing the very best of Israel whilst discussing all manner of topics related to the UK travel industry.

Attendees were shown many of the best aspects of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in order to better understand the attraction of Israel, which had 165,000 UK visitors in 2014, as a tourist destination. Delegates received a warm welcome from the Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, who announced the Tourist Office’s initiative to market Israel as a safe long weekend travel destination for UK visitors. He also outlined government support available for the construction of new hotel rooms, which presents an exciting prospect for UK hotel investors and operators.

I was asked by the Institute of Travel & Tourism to put together a panel at the conference, and I took this as an opportunity to introduce these first time visitors to what the start-up nation is all about. My panel on tech disruption within the travel industry gave delegates the chance to hear first-hand from the Israeli entrepreneurs seeking to both disrupt but also work with the travel industry.

The first company to present was FairFly, chaired by the co-founder of Waze, Uri Levine. FairFly enables travellers including travel management companies to track the cost of flights AFTER booking and save money by rebooking if the fare falls in price.

Second was Combtas, a longer-established innovative corporate travel management platform operating in the UK, which offer businesses, particularly within the SME space, a way to readily manage travel expenses and communicate with travel agents on bookings, to ensure cost-effective business travel and easy expense reporting.

Finally, fresh from a US$300m strategic investment by Volkswagen and the acquisition in the UK of Radio Taxis, Israeli mobility platform Gett presented their platform serving corporates and consumers.

The panel discussion highlighted why many business people visit Israel to source and invest in technology and how Israeli companies can help all manner of UK companies find a competitive edge through their use of technology.

All three presenting companies see the UK as an important market for them to address and at UK Israel Business, we are starting to see more and more Israeli companies pay attention to the UK as a business destination. Taking Gett as an example, they now directly employ somewhere in the region of 250 people in the UK with over 11,500 black cabs in London and operations in 25 cities across the UK.

While Gett’s investment into the UK clearly demonstrates the win-win economic outcome of attracting Israeli businesses to set-up in the UK, it was great to see so many attendees of the ITT conference compelled to come back to Israel in the future both for holidays and to source Israeli innovation for their businesses.

Hugo Bieber is the Chief Executive of UK Israel Business