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Cutting-Edge Tourism Conference Convenes in Jerusalem Amid Facebook, Google Bidding War for Israeli Company

The second biennial Jerusalem Innovative Tourism Summit kicked off Tuesday, bringing international industry leaders to a parley that organizers promise will showcase groundbreaking technologies in a fast-changing industry.

Marquee speakers at this year’s two-day event include Michael Arad – the Israeli-American architect who designed the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center – and Polish-born Daniel Libeskind, who is the master planner of the new World Trade Center site.

Organizers presented Sheldon Adelson – the founder of Las Vegas Sands Corporation and a significant Jewish philanthropist – an honorary award for innovation and excellence in global tourism.

“I have dedicated a substantial part of my business career to the tourism industry and it is always humbling and rewarding to have my contributions to the industry recognized,” Adelson said. “It is especially meaningful to meet personally when it is being given to me in our eternal City of Jerusalem, the spirit and soul of the Jewish People.”

One of the speakers at the conference was Uri Levine, a cofounder of Waze. The Israeli mobile map application was honored as the year’s best overall app at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and is currently the subject of a billion dollar bidding war between various tech companies. Facebook is reportedly interested in buying the startup for $1 billion. Google is also reportedly interested in the company. News reports had already surfaced in January suggesting that Waze was being courted by Apple. A $400 million price tag was mentioned at the time but no deal materialized.

Waze has one of the most well-known and popular navigation apps on the market. The app can be used by smartphones, tablets, and vehicle systems. It provides GPS navigation, crowdsourced-based updates about congestion, and information on police activity, traffic cameras, accidents, and road hazards. While Waze is well-known in Israel and the U.S., an acquisition by Facebook would explode Waze’s users database and potentially make it the world’s premier navigation app.

Israel’s Globes business newspaper explained that Waze would offer Facebook users the ability to contact friends while travelling, and to have friends share information in real time about their driving experience. In the past two years Facebook bought the Israeli facial recognition company for $60 million, and the Israeli mobile app company Snaptu for $70 million.

Levine told the assembled crowd that two-thirds of all Israeli drivers use his app as well as 47 million people worldwide. His own success notwithstanding, Levine warned that tech developers must never grow complacent, lest they become irrelevant.

“Twelve years ago there was no Wikipedia,” he said. “Now there’s no Britannica.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the summit on Wednesday:

[Photo: Morag Bitan]