Grand Central Station will be turned into an Israel showcase during a week in April to demonstrate to New Yorkers the attractions of the Jewish state: its products, its technical know-how, its business opportunities and travel destinations.
"Half a million people move through Grand Central Station each day," said Israel’s consul general in New York, Shmuel Sisso. "They spend three to eight minutes in the station and we have to attract their attention" through innovative and interesting exhibits.
Sisso said that among the items under consideration is a live, two-way hookup that would allow commuters to speak with shoppers at a mall in Israel. "We are also going to organize seminars and help develop business contacts with Israeli firms," he added. Israel’s economic minister for North America, Ron Chaimovski, said that during the week, "Israeli industry is going to present its strengths and uniqueness. It will bring finished products here to explore the possibilities of distributing them in the States."
The Israeli Consulate noted that 42 percent of those who pass through Grand Central have a household income of $100,000 or more; 12 percent earn more than $200,000 annually.
The Grand Central exhibit is expanding on a version last year at Union Station in Washington. Its success, said Sisso, prompted Israel to approach officials at Grand Central with the idea of mounting an exhibit there.
Although plans are still being formulated, Chaimovski said he would like to see businesses at Grand Central display Israeli products.
"If there is a flower shop at Grand Central, we might have it sell flowers from Israel," he explained. "If there is a chocolate shop there, we might make sure it gets a supply of Israeli chocolate.
"We would like to show the millions of people who walk through Grand Central Station that Israel is a tiny country in size but a country that has a lot to offer when it comes to businesses, to export and high-tech."
He noted that bilateral trade between Israel and the United States last year totaled $13 billion. Chaimovski says he believes that amount will grow this year.
He noted that Israel is a "powerhouse" in research and development, spending 2.2 percent of its gross domestic product on R&D. But as to marketing, U.S. companies are superior.
"So many Israeli companies (more than 300 already) are moving their marketing offices to the States in order to market their products in the right way and use the marketing capabilities of the experts here," said Chaimovski.
The exhibits would be set up in Vanderbilt Hall, along corridors and possibly in the food court. Plans also call for music and dance performances by well-known Israeli artists, mural displays, exhibition booths sponsored by leading Jewish organizations, and computer stations showcasing Israelís high-tech abilities. There is also expected to be special programming on Sunday for children and families for all faiths.
On tap, too, are displays showing the special places Israel has to offer for tourists, according to Israel’s commissioner of tourism for North America, Arie Sommer. "The millenium is a very important year for us," he said. "We thought that Jerusalem 2000 would attract only Christian groups to Israel. We were surprised to see that Jewish groups are making a point of going, too."
Sommer said a change in atmosphere regarding peace in the Middle East has had an immediate effect on tourists.
"Last month we saw a higher level of interest among Americans and Canadians in going to Israel," he noted. "People are more hopeful that peace is coming."
He noted that tourism to Israel has been so good this year that it is expected to top by 10 percent to 12 percent the record 2.5 million tourists from 1995.