Acre Tourism Development Strategy

Acre Tourism Development Strategy

Acre Tourism Development Strategy


1. General background


Old Acre is one of Israel's urban and cultural Mediterranean pearls. It is blessed with rich layers of ancient cultures and it is considered to be one of the peaks of the Crusader and Ottoman periods in Israel and even worldwide.
Acre is home to thousands of inhabitants and it is one of Israel's main tourist attractions.
Acre was first mentioned in the cave writings(clay tablets or vessels featuring the curses of the kings of Egypt against their enemies). In these groups of curses, which most probably date back to the 19th century BC, the name Acre appears among 64 names of places.


The City of Acre was most likely established about 4,000 years ago, in a place currently known as "Napoleon's Hill", "Tel el-Fukhar" or "Pottery Hill", and – throughout its existence – it served as the main port of the Eastern Mediterranean. The City is mentioned in ancient Egyptian writings and during the Hellenistic period, Acre further served as a major commercial center.
Acre became vital as a commercial, port city during the Hellenistic period, however it only achieved greatness during the Crusader period. The first Crusade dates back to 1099, five years after the conquest of Jerusalem. In 1104, King Baldwin I, assisted by the Genovese fleet, conquered Acre. The city's merchants, as well as those of Venice, Pisa and Amali, subsequently developed the city's unique quarters and Acre became the most important port in the eastern Mediterranean as well as the main crossroads between Europe and the Holy Land.


The city reached the height of its glory and grandeur during the Crusader Period. The various Crusader orders made Acre their headquarters and for a portion of the period, Acre served as the capital of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Acre was subsequently conquered by the Mamluks, who lasted there for 300 years until they lost their stronghold over the Land of Israel. The Ottoman period led to the construction of several interesting and impressive architectural sites, which were established on the ruins of the Crusader City, e.g.: el-Jazzar mosque; the hostels - Chan el-Umdan, Khan al-Umdan, Khan al-Shuna, Khan al-Shuna, Khan el-Franj; and the wall surrounding the Old City which has remained intact to this very day.


Old Acre, the pearl of the Western Galilee, is one of Israel's main visiting spots. Thanks to its versatility, Acre is a major point of interest, for both domestic and international tourism.
Through proper and careful development, Acre has acquired the status of a national and international tourist attraction similar to that of tourist sites such as Jerusalem and Eilat.


Sir Laurence Oliphant, in his book entitled "Haifa – Living in Modern Israel", which was written at the end of the 19th century, refers to Acre and does not spare any praise for the city and its special fabric. He expressed his enthusiasm for the city and its latent tourism potential as follows:


"Nowhere in the East will you find a more typical market than that of Acre…
Acre is a most interesting place to spend a few days, not to mention its delightful antiquities or its new buildings which are undoubtedly worthy of attention…"


A tour of Old Acre – what with the ongoing exposure of the Crusader City, which has remained virtually intact beneath the current city – offers its visitors a glimpse of different building styles during the Crusader period and later, during the Ottoman period. In the near future, visitors will also be able to get a taste of the lifestyles during the different periods – the Crusader period, the Ottoman period and the Jewish period – by means of various illustrative means.


Old Acre is the only open museum of its kind that offers its visitors a unique blend of lifestyles typical of a modern, vibrant, 21st century city alongside and within an old city boasting structures dating back one thousand years and more.


There are examples of the tourism development flourishing in Acre – namely a combination between a residential city and a tourist attraction – elsewhere in the world. These combinations are now common in sites which are "supreme travel destinations" such as Dubrovnik or Split in Croatia, Rhodes - the capital of the island of Rhodes in Greece, the city of Toledo in Spain and similar sites in other cities in Spain and Turkey. These sites – from the point of view of their physical characteristics and their proximity (where most of them are concerned) to the seaside, are highly similar texture-wise to that of Acre's unique texture. The tourism development both inside these cities and adjacent to them has made it possible to maximize their touristic potential. For example, there are currently more hotel rooms, leisure facilities and vacation rentals in Dubrovnik and the surrounding area than in the entire State of Israel.


The State of Israel declared Old Acre an architectural reserve and antiquity site. In 2001, Unesco designated Acre as a World Heritage Site and as one of the world's most delightful attractions.


Acre is replete with impressive historical, archeological and architectural remains reflecting its rich past. Examples of these sites include:
An underground Crusader city;
Mosques – including the el-Jazzar mosque, the religious spiritual center of the Shadhiliyya sect (which reportedly has about 6 million members worldwide);
A Jewish center, Jewish neighborhoods and Jewish sites such as: The Ramchal Synagogue, the Chaim Parchi House, The Or Torah" Tunisian Synagogue, the Mandatory prison, etc.;
The center and sites dedicated to the Bahai religion, including the site known as the "Bahai Gardens" and several other sites dedicated to this religion located with the city's municipal area (the heads of the Bahai community plan to upgrade the sites in Acre – Ridwan gardens – based on the Haifa Bahai gardens model).


The international recognition that Acre won when Unesco declared it a World Heritage site reflects the esteem for the efforts made to date and the encouragement to continue with the extensive rehabilitation and development activity planned for this unique city.


The Old Acre Development Company initiated a comprehensive plan for the development of Old Acre.


2. Plan objectives


2.1 To enable intensive and balanced development of the entire Old City as a rich diverse attraction for both high quality, popular tourism, professional, specialized tourism (such as conservation and restoration professionals), leisure tourism and festivals, day and night tourism, sea and land tourism.


2.2 To enable high quality residential and living conditions for the population of Old Acre.


2.3 To enable conservation and restoration, rehabilitation and revival of the treasures of the Old City's ancient cultures over the ages.To enable the proper development of the municipal infrastructures so as to keep the plan's objectives flexible.


2.4 To ensure appropriate ties between Old Acre, the new city, the Western Galilee and Haifa Bay while making sure to preserve the Old City's uniqueness and enhance its image.


2.5 To ensure economic development in stages and implementation doses that promote public and private initiatives.


3. The new city


The city outside of the walls is divided into four main quarters beyond those of the Old City: the Mandatory City, the northern neighborhoods, the eastern residential areas and the southern shoreline.
Each of the above have different urban characteristics and a different development whereby the common thread between them and the Old city is – to date – minimal.
Developing Acre's tourism and realizing the city's unique tourism potential is likely to improve the ties between the different quarters and enhance the city's appeal, both in the eyes of its inhabitants and in those of its visitors.
The tourism development in the city will be handled by a single entity – the Ministry of tourism – through the Old Acre Development Company, which will plan the development in stages, and in accordance with the tourism development, with an emphasis on designing, organizing and combining the city's entire tourist system under a single roof.


4. Tourism Development in Acre


The City of Acre is an ideal target for tourism development, which will make it one of Israel's main tourist attractions
Most of the attractions and tourism trade to be established in Acre – based on the accumulated experience on the subject worldwide – need to be confined to the Old City and its vicinity, within the boundaries of the Mandatory City.
In the initial stage, the accommodation centers should develop both in the Old City (to a small extent) and in its close vicinity, including the Mandatory City, and in the area located along the shore line from the south of the Old City.  Efforts should be made to maximize the city's unique potential by focusing on the following sites and issues:


4.1 The existing marina should be expanded to dock at least 300 ships. The suggestion was that the development would be completed as a public investment and as part of the city's economic/tourism infrastructure – just like at the time of the marina's previous expansion. It should be mentioned that the marina's expansion needs to be done in such a way that pays maximum attention to the Old City's landscape and to the antiquity sites within its boundaries or in its vicinity as well as to the fishing port.


4.2 The Bahai community leaders need to be assisted with the task of utilizing the potential in their sites of religious significance in the Old City and in other areas of the city (the Bahai garden north of the city, the Bahai center in the heart of the Old City and the Ridwan gardens in the south).


4.3 The existing southern region between the Old City and the municipal boundary in the south needs to be developed in two stages. The first stage will last until the polluting industry to the south of the Na'aman estuary is eliminated; the second stage will follow once the purpose of the area south of the Na'aman estuary changes from industry to tourism and recreation.
The idea is to establish – in the near future -  the city's main tourist accommodation center in the area that is vacated to the south of the Na'aman River.


4.4 Once it is cleaned and rehabilitated, the Na'aman River should be converted into a daily recreation and activity center both for the region's inhabitants and for the tourists visiting the city.


4.5 "Napoleon's Hill" (Pottery Hill) should be turned into a national garden that stresses the Hill's importance in the urban fabric throughout the generations.


4.6 The northern beach strip – up to the tip of the municipal boundary in the north – should be included within the city's tourist attractions during the second or third stage of the city's tourism development.


4.7 Steps should be taken to define the city's current beach strip – from the city's southern boundary to its northern boundary (at least 100 meters from the water line, as a beach promenade offering a variety of tourist services.) Moreover they will feature swimming beaches that will be run according to international standards – as it is customary at similar tourist centers worldwide.


4.8 In the long run, Acre's tourism development and the utilization of its unique tourism potential will affect the tourism development options of the entire Western Galilee – from Nahariya and the Sulam-Tzur region in the north to Haifa in the south, and from the Mediterranean in the west and the watershed line along the mountain range in the east.
Tourism development in Acre needs to be accomplished through an accelerated process that will convince all parties involved that the government's intent is serious, according to a defined timetable that will also involve, inter alia, taking the following steps:


4.8.1 Continued development of the physical infrastructure in the Old City – a process that kicked off in 1994 with a bang – proceeded with ups and downs at the rate of the public investments in the city.
It would be fitting to increase the investments, which would make it possible to complete the master plan for the development of the Old City within 3 years.


4.8.2 During said preparations, an attractive and available infrastructure was designed in order to attract the following tourism initiatives: accommodation facilities, tourism commerce, various tourist services, tourist attractions both in the Old City in the immediate stage and afterward, in the new tourist areas to be defined for this purpose in the Mandatory city and in the area south of the Old City, up to the Na'aman River estuary (during the initial stage).


4.8.3 *  Tourist development in Acre also needs to be based on visitor and vacationer tourism, on the growing sailing tourism to the Mediterranean shores (ships, yachts and cruise ships).


*  Promoting cultural and entertainment life in Acre, thereby creating an image reversal that will attract tourist and business enterprises; making use of the city's physical and historical infrastructure to further its development as a unique cultural and tourist center.


*  To create experiential centers in the Old City's port and waterfront as bustling public expanses interconnected by pedestrian routes and a chain of events to be held throughout the year as a long-term infrastructure to achieve a constant flow of tourists and visitors.


*  One of the ways of promoting these events is to build a professional, cultural relationship with cities in western Europe, commercial companies and cultural institutions in these cities. The events will consist of culture festivals by topic, conventions and exhibitions.


*  Enhancing the self-awareness of the inhabitants as a whole and of students in particular regarding the city's uniqueness and cultural wealth.


*  Promoting creative activity in Israel in all areas with regard to Acre's history and its former cultural glory.


4.8.4 Continuing to invest effort in involving the inhabitants in the planning and development processes.


4.8.5 Developing employment, industry, commerce and higher education is a means to leverage and empower art, creativity and tourism.


5. Acre today


5.1 Acre now houses 3 large hotels, 2 boutique hotels and two hostels. Most of the hotels in the Western Galilee do not conform to standards that meet the needs of domestic tourists who tend to flock to the brand new hotels elsewhere in Israel such as Eilat and the Dead Sea (except for weekend bed and breakfasts, especially during vacations and holidays).
The hotels in the area are outdated. The hotel owners were unable to adapt to the changes that affect the Israeli public's consumption, recreation  and entertainment habits – on the one hand – and international tourism, on the other hand, both physically and from the point of view of the volume and variety of services they have to offer.
As a result, the average annual hotel occupancy in 1998 – even prior to the economic crisis – was low (whereas in Acre itself, the occupancy rate for the only hotel running there at the time was higher).


5.2 Contrary to the situation with the hotel industry, rustic accommodation, which developed in the area in the last decade as a result of the government's promotion of rustic tourism development in the communities along the confrontation line is flourishing and it is only natural that Acre join the rustic accommodation celebration.  The suggestion is that Acre – and Old Acre specifically – offer oriental style accommodation with a unique style and design to be called dhiyafas (dhiyafa in Arabic means staying with a family).


5.3 The Old Acre Development Company has just completed the construction of two tourist attractions in the Turkish bath and the Templars' Tunnel and preparations for top notch tourist attractions, which will enrich and diversify the tourist's visit and encourage him to sleep over in the city, are in full swing.


(a) An interactive museum exhibit of Acre's past to be displayed in the Hospitaller Fortress (in the Knights Halls) during the day tours.


(b) A show featuring unique Crusader hospitality including knight battles and a Crusader meal in the evenings.


6. Acre's tourism potential


6.1 When reviewing Acre's tourism potential, the following facts need to be taken into account:


(a) Acre is currently a center of attraction for groups arriving to Israel for a "tour-trip". There are many groups who make regular visits to Israel. These groups are a convenient and ripe target audience for a prolonged and thorough visit to Acre.
In 1988, 43% of the tourists to Israel were making a return visit.


(b) Based on the surveys held by the Ministry of Tourism among wholesalers in Germany, Italy and Spain – as well as among from these countries who visited Israel – there was a definite recommendation to prolong the stay in Israel or split it in two. This recommendation stemmed from the feeling shared by organizers and tourists alike whereby the entire visit – which, according to them, was unforgettable – involved constant running around.


(c) These countries, namely England, Germany, France, Italy and Spain – and to a large extent Austria, Norway and the Benelux as well (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) share a vital historical connection to Acre, which should be utilized to attract tourists from these countries and hold events echoing the heritage of these countries.


(d) In addition to Acre-related tourism, there is also tourism potential in the following areas: vacation combined with a tour, vacation combined with a cruise, as well as study days and conferences for medium enterprises from Israel and abroad with the option to stay in the city overnight.


6.2 Tourism development in Acre needs to involve the simultaneous handling of urban and social problems typical of the city.
The touristic Acre is imprinted within and intertwined with present-day Acre as well as the many layers of Acre's past: the Crusader, Ottoman and Jewish periods; the upper and the underground city; the architecture, the archeology, the culture and the history. All of them are blended into a Mediterranean city forming a bustling, active and vibrant urban whole. Accordingly, Acre's development needs to go hand-in-hand with the handling of the city's other problems.

The present and the past in Old Acre are inexorably intertwined. In order to enjoy Acre's past, one needs to walk the Old City's alleyways, rub shoulders with the local population, use the city's existing infrastructure, listen to the voices, smell the street and its fragrances, see its colors and get a first-hand impression of the city's day-to-day atmosphere.
The current and future tourist development in Acre – combined with the other steps which are being taken and need to be taken – are a solution to the city's problems and make it possible to transform the population living in the city into an economically sound population. Thus, Acre's development affects the long standing trend in this city marked by a departure of the high socioeconomic status population and an influx of a weaker population in its stead.


6.3 Bahá'í tourism – Acre is the holiest city of the Bahá'í faith and all of the major holy sites are located in Acre and the surrounding area (Haifa).
The right strategy will bring about an increase in the number of Bahá'í visitors to Israel and create another attraction for general tourists in the city, e.g. the process that the Bahá'í temples in Haifa underwent.


6.4 Muslim tourism will gradually expand as the peace settlements become more concrete, in the consciousness of both Israelis and Muslims, locally and globally.
This tourism will reach Acre for the following reasons:


(a) the city's historical background


(b) due to the city's large Muslim population, which puts the Muslim tourist – who is likely to initially be deterred by staying among Jews – at ease


(c) Acre is the most important center for the Shadhiliyya sect originating in Tunisia, which currently has approximately 6 million members.


6.5 Marina and yachting – it is important to develop this industry in the city in order to meet the needs of the yacht owners from Israel and abroad.
Moreover, docking facilities are required in order to accommodate boating vessels (including the services required in order to include Acre in the boating trajectories to the Mediterranean shores). It is estimated that once the security situation in the Middle East improves, the Mediterranean (the cradle of western civilization) will become a cruising Mecca similar in scope to that of the Caribbean Islands.


6.6 A vacation combining both leisure time and touring – this proposed combination is supported by the survey that was conducted in Germany a few years ago in which most of the respondents (travel agents and tourists to Israel) indicated that the optimal blend for a visit to Israel needs to include a week of travel followed by a week of beach vacationing along the Mediterranean or in Eilat (depending on the time of year).
Thus, the development of Acre as a vacationing and travel site holds great tourism potential.
It seems to us that – among the Mediterranean shores of Israel – there is no better place than Acre to launch the new trend of combining leisure and touring in Israel.
Acre's beaches are among the most beautiful and serene beaches in Israel.
Developing the vacationing infrastructure will also serve to enhance domestic tourism.


6.7 Developing a nautical Acre-Haifa-Caesarea nautical touring route could serve as both an attraction and a unique experience.


6.8 Steps should be taken to expand and diversify the events held in Acre, such as: the Fringe Theater Festival and/or concerts in the Knights' Halls, etc. Efforts should also be made to spread these events over the entire year.


7. Proposed ways of implementing the vision


In order to implement the vision and fulfill the latent tourism potential in Acre – and especially in the Old City – the following steps should be taken:


7.1 The Company is working on making approximately 1000 rooms available for tourist accommodation within the Old City's existing fabric, which is primarily based on rehabilitated and restored buildings


The following hotels and accommodation facilities were made available:
- HaAbirim Guest House (up & running)
- Akkotel Hotel (up & running)
- Efendi Hotel (up & running)
- The Khan al-Umdan and Khan al-Shuna Hotels and the Turkish Bath are going through the final marketing stages
- Akko Beach Hotel was renovated and is operating adjacent to Palm Beach Hotel


2 beach hotels are at the initial marketing stages
a) HaBustan Hotel
b) Khan al-Shawarda
c) Approx. 200 Dhiyafa‬-style guest rooms


7.2 During the second stage, the quota of the city's existing rooms should be expanded by means of additional hotels to be built in the appropriate locations in Mandatory Acre and in the tourist area south of the Old City, with the aim of reaching about 3,500 rooms at all accommodation levels – hotels, resort villages, special tourist accommodation and guest rooms – by the year 2020.
"Dhiyafas" is the proposed name for guest houses in the Old City and they will have an oriental design and original ethnic character that will ultimately suit the current image among Israel's inhabitants and tourists from abroad.


7.3 Efforts should be made to develop and include the Mandatory City within the tourist fabric designated for the Old City. Tourist development should be used to restore the status of main urban business center to the Mandatory City – a status it lost over the years – and to turn it into a center of commerce, leisure and entertainment for visitors and inhabitants alike.


7.4 Informed development of the southern shore adjacent to the Old City should be planned; it is among Israel's most convenient and beautiful beaches. Maintenance and cleanliness of the beach and its facilities need to be improved and adjacent accommodation established in order to run the proposed tourist center, which will attract a large volume of visitors. This influx of tourists will make it possible to build additional hosting facilities, which will add to the city's appeal, such as restaurants and entertainment facilities that will serve both the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding area and the tourists who visit the city.
Intensive efforts should already be made to vacate the polluting facilities south of the Na'aman estuary, which include the פרוטארום plant and other neighboring facilities.


7.5 Efforts are currently being made to further the operation of the unique international tourist attraction planned for the Hospitaller Fortress:


(a) The proposed tourist attraction in the Knights' Halls that will tell the story of Acre throughout the generations


(b) Currently operating: the tourist attraction in the Turkish Bath tells "The Story of the Last Bath Attendant" - the story of Acre from the time the Turkish Baths were built.


(c) A tourist attraction that began operation in December 2011 in the Templars' Tunnel, which features an audiovisual display telling the story of Acre during the Crusader period.


The following are several independently launched attractions to be run on the premises taking into account commercial considerations.

Turkish-Ottoman Restaurant / Attraction on site 54, etc.


7.6  *It is necessary to design a detailed plan for creating multidisciplinary, social and professional reciprocal ties with western European countries by implementing construction and development projects as well as by exposing Acre's past and including countries, cities, commercial companies, cultural institutions and private visitors in Western Europe.


*  This plan needs to be incorporated in a chain of events, which will be spread over the year and will form a long term foundation for the relationship by expanding it beyond the professional realm to multi-participant social events that will generate a constant flow of tourism from Europe to Acre.


*  These events – such as tourist festivals in the realms of theater, opera, music, dance, as well as conventions and exhibitions surrounding plastic arts, architecture, archeology, etc. will gradually generate the demand for hotels and tourist services and lead to a change in the target population wanting to live in the city and in its commercial and occupational habits.


*  There are currently several packages geared to promote convenient accommodation in the area and enrich the tourist's visits and tours. The packages combine visits and tours to several sites with a combined ticket such as: Acre, Rosh Hanikra, Lohamei Hagetaot, Hai-Park, The Treasures in the Wall Museum, Museum of the Underground Prisoners, cruises, etc. There is an option to select just a few of them.


*  Producing the proposed events involves significant budgetary expense. These costs will be jointly covered by the Municipality of Acre and the government, private entities in Israel and various bodies abroad and in Europe in particular.


7.7 *Diverse cultural events are held in the city, such as: the Fringe Theater Festival, which has been operating in Acre for over thirty years; the Masrahid Festival; the Olive Harvest Festival; and the International Youth Circus Convention. The Vakalisa Festival is also returning to Acre and will already be featured during Passover 2012.


* Marketing a unique Handicrafts Center to be run by entrepreneurs in the Turkish bazaar in about fifty stores. The aim of the proposed plan is to transform the Old City of Acre into a dynamic stage for a year-long theatrical tourist happening in which the initial "actors" are tourist audiences coming from all over the world, and Europe in particular.


*  Some of the events may be sponsored by a specific country, district or city in Europe, depending on the subject and nature of the event.


7.8  *The Company is currently striving to improve the living conditions of the city's residents and is also conducting a national pilot of 250 housing units as in the past.


*  Expanding the housing units by merging certain units and/or enlarging units where possible with the aim of transforming the Old City and the surrounding area into an attractive center that will serve a strong, high quality population, both from the point of view of the business activity there and from the point of view of the public living there.


*  International sponsorship with the aim to create an affiliation and a sense of identification and organize tourist visits of an international scope from destinations abroad associated with Acre's unique events. The marketing efforts will be geographically oriented and will address both incoming and domestic tourism.


*  The proposed level of tourism combines prestigious as well as popular tourism, day and night tourism, vacationing tourism and festivals, continental and sea tourism.


7.9 The proposed plan is marketed and released to the international and national press at regular and short intervals (every quarter). This program will specify all of the short- and long-term events – including the professional conferences – and will facilitate advance reservations, both for participation and accommodation purposes and for tourist services by using the Internet.
All of the above will lead to Acre's recognition as an international tourist city.


8. Proposed ways of implementing the vision


Global tourism, which has developed in the last few years, is continuing to expand in the realm of vacationing and touring or for goal-oriented business purposes where one can undergo unique experiences in special places. Accordingly, the requested sites are those that carry the sense whereby they have existed from time immemorial and will continue to do so for many years to come. Moreover, the urge for fantasy, experience, adventure, uniqueness, distinction and originality is what will dictate where the tourist is headed. Acre has the potential to satisfy this urge and become an international tourist center.


Yours sincerely,

David Harari

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