At the confluence point of three continents, three religions and a mezze of international culture, the Israeli city of Tel Aviv is full of surprises for MICE visitors. Stuart Wood reports
Few places on Earth exist at such a crossroads as Israel.
It is the point where the Middle East meets Africa and Europe, and the point where Judaism meets Islam and Christianity. The country’s position on this cultural faultline has been a factor in its unstable history, as international powers have jostled for influence inside and around its borders.
But Israel’s unique geography has also given it a rich diversity of culture to offer visitors. In a region containing several emerging economic giants, Israel’s small geographical stature should not be a reason to overlook it as a MICE destination. In fact, its compact size is one of the USPs which tourist boards in the country are keen to promote: it means delegates can squeeze many of its most essential sights into one trip.
CMW spent several days in Israel’s financial and technological hub, Tel Aviv. The cosmopolitan city feels distinctly European along parts of its Mediterranean coastline, while further inland the blend of traditional Middle Eastern architecture and state-of-the-art skyscrapers speaks to a modern city which remains in touch with its past.
Each district of Tel Aviv has its own stories, telling a different chapter of its history – and are a must-see for incentive travellers. The ancient city of Jaffa, which predates Tel Aviv, was a key location in many biblical stories, and in later years its port became a cornerstone of the city’s economy. It exports long-lasting Shamouti oranges around the world, which were the basis for the world-famous Jaffa Cake that shares its name. The region now serves as an artist’s district, and its trendy bars and cafes are a focal point for young people across Tel Aviv.
Sarona, to the north, is full of the history of the Templers, a German Protestant group who came to Israel in the 19th century. Today, its most eye-catching landmark is the Azrieli Sarona Tower, a 61-story skyscraper which is the country’s tallest, and contains an event space with views over Tel Aviv. Guided tours of these districts are available for business travellers.
For delegates considering taking a conference to the city, Tel Aviv Expo is Israel’s pre-eminent event space. It contains two halls of about 7,000sqm each, and was host to the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. When we visit, the Israel Tattoo Convention is in full swing, and we cross paths with a man covered head to toe in tattoos (pictured left).
Just minutes away from the venue, and visible from its open rooftop, is a small theme park for visitors who need a quick lunch break. And just over the road from this is Ganei Yehusha Park, which features outdoor event spaces and a huge climbing frame which has just finished construction, and is bookable for events (pictured overleaf). Adventurous delegates have plenty of options to hand.
Food remains one of Tel Aviv’s biggest cultural exports, and one the main reasons to visit – although things have come a long way since the days of Shamouti oranges. Delegates shouldn’t miss Miznon, a street food restaurant which serves mezze-style food on long, shared tables. Oven-baked pitta burgers with fresh hummous and roasted cauliflower are delivered without plates, while handfuls of salt and spices are sprinkled directly onto a huge paper sheet which covers the whole table.
Miznon, after first opening in Tel Aviv, has now expanded to Paris, Vienna, and New York, among other global cities. Its relaxed, inclusive atmosphere is the secret to its popularity – something which can also be said for another culinary export.
Eatwith, an innovative Israeli startup business, provides CMW with one of the most unique dining experiences we’ve had in any country. The app works something like Airbnb, but for dinner parties – hosts offer their cooking and hospitality services, welcoming guests to eat in their homes.
We sit down for dinner in the apartment of an ex-chef who lives in the suburbs of Tel Aviv with his wife, a lawyer in the city centre. The couple use the app to supplement their income, welcoming guests twice a week. Eatwith offers us a glimpse of what local life looks like in Tel Aviv, as well as introducing us to the couple’s dog, who enthusiastically greets the new guests after dessert.
Although the last few years have seen an increase in stability, some delegates may have understandable concerns about visiting Israel due to the ongoing conflicts on the Gaza Strip and nearby Syria. But that shouldn’t put them off – while it is true that security going in and out of the country is tight, we never felt anything but safe during our time in Tel Aviv. The city provides a unique blend of business acumen and living history, with a strong offering for incentive travellers and plenty of unexpected surprises.