WSB CASE STUDY:
Thousands of employees of the US-based World System Builders, a financial services company, (WSB) came to Israel on a weeklong supertrip sponsored by their employer (a subsidiary of TransAmerica Insurance). It was the largest corporate group to visit Israel or anywhere at one time - part of the growing incentive tourism industry.
WHEN: 10-22 September 2019
WHERE: Jerusalem, Israel
Globes – an Israeli business and financial website reports that incentive tours worldwide totaled an estimated $60 billion in 2018. Some 50 percent of incentive tours globally come from US companies.
“When people heard our next trip was to Israel, they wanted to bring their family and friends,” said a senior WSB official.
Ilanit Melchior, Jerusalem Development Authority Director of Tourism, described it as the largest tourist event every to take place in Israel. “More than 6,000 visitors spent more than 45 million shekels (over 12.5 million dollars),” she said, “a cause for celebration.”
She told Globes, “in contrast to conference tourists, these tourists have lots of free time which is great for local businesses.”
WSB has been collaborating with the US-based Central Holidays Group Travel Experiences who have been organizing the incentive tourism packages for employees for eight years including trips to Vietnam, Italy and other European and Asian destinations.
Company officials said that WSB Head Coach Xuan Nguyen was presented with two options: either Greece or Israel. He leaned towards the Holy Land because of his own Christian faith, saying that after having an audience with the Pope during the trip to Rome he wondered how WSB could top that experience.
When Central Holidays together with the Israel Tourism Ministry brought Xuan to Jerusalem, he is said to have seen the biblical Ben Hinnom Valley, He envisioned it as the venue for the group gala dinners under the Old City’s Walls and was convinced that Israel was the next incentive destination.
View the video of the creation of the gala event.
“It took two-and-a-half years to plan and deliver the monumental trip,” said Baher Ghabbour, CEO of Sakkara Group International, the parent company of Central Holidays.
Ghabbour estimated that 10,000 emails were exchanged and the team travelled to Israel 13 times to plan and inspect every single element; from hotels and restaurants to transport and entrance to popular historic and religious sites.
The unprecedented size of the group required it to be divided into two; spending half the time in Tel Aviv and half in Jerusalem as there was a shortage of hotel facilities of the standards required by the group. Dozens of busses also carried them to popular tourist destinations such as the Dead Sea and the Galilee. A baptism ritual was also arranged at a Jordan River site.
Amnon Ben David, CEO of Israel’s Eshet Tours, awarded the hosting bid, together with Jerusalem Conference and Visitors Bureau (JCVB), noted that Israel is a newcomer to the incentive tourism industry and is more expensive than most destinations.
Steps are being taken to make Israel and Jerusalem more competitive. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said the municipality had set a goal of turning the city into an incentive tours capital, and was preparing accordingly.
"In the past two years, we have launched special routes and grants for encouraging incentive tourism in the hope of continuing to host more tours of this kind,” Lion said.
Ghabbour confirmed that Israel also won the bid,” he said, “due to the financial grants offered by the Jerusalem Conventions and Visitors Bureau (JCVB).”
“After the great success of the WSB group,” noted Melchior, “the Conventions and Visitors Bureau under the auspices of the Jerusalem Development Authority, is now promoting incentive tourism packages through financial grants to groups of at least 500 visitors.”
Mayor Lion was personally involved in the logistics of transforming the park into an enchanting banquet scene from the reign of King David. Each night, the elegant tables were set for 2,000 guests.
Many of the 600-member staff dressed in costumes evoking ancient times. Elevated platforms were specially constructed for the dinners after which the groups enjoyed musical and dance performances from some of Israel’s most popular entertainers.
The Egyptian-born Ghabbour expressed his satisfaction with the way the holiday week was planned and carried out.
“We are thrilled to bring the travelers and tourism dollars to Israel via this grand scale incentive travel group,” he said.
Reut Breslauer, JCVB Convention Manager said that this was the largest ever incentive tour to Israel and to anywhere in the world.
“Usually you get 60 people or maybe a few hundred. We hosted 6,000 and then two weeks later hosted another corporate incentive group of 3,000 people from South and Central America,” she said.
The benefits of these supertours to Israel extend beyond economics. The tourists may thrill to float in the Dead Sea; wander the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City; or just want to taste shakshuka but Breslauer said she was especially proud of the fact that “each visitor becomes an ambassador for Israel.”