7.12.18 / Tel Aviv / Israel

Eager Tourist Offers the Hyperlocal Experience Travelers Are Looking For

Starting with insider guides to the culture-rich Tel Aviv

In many ways you could say Ross Belfer lived out most New Yorkers secret fantasy: spend a few years working on 5th Avenue before finally trading the city for a Meditteranean coastline. That’s what Belfer did when he found himself seeking something more out of life, and it was in Tel Aviv that he discovered his answer. There he leveraged his publicity background to start Xhibition, his own PR firm that capitalizes on the cross-cultural connections of two distinct cities. But after a few years, Belfer realized there was something more to Tel Aviv, something he was seeing and wanted to share with others, and thus Eager Tourist was born.

Eager Tourist is a way for people to experience Tel Aviv the way a local like Belfer does. Essentially it’s a travel concierge, offering a curated experience that serves to showcase the Tel Aviv most people who don’t live there get to see. It’s not simply a cookie-cutter solution either; Belfer creates various experiences for different tastes, whether the goal is to immerse yourself into the art scene, go on a rich and flavorful foodie tour, or dive into the nightlife. Eager Tourist recently revamped their site and added a handful of new experiences, bringing more of the real Tel Aviv to travelers than ever before. We took the opportunity to talk to Belfer (a friend of AHL) about why he made the move to Israel, why Tel Aviv is the perfect place for New Yorkers, and what Eager Tourist looks like beyond Tel Aviv.

Tell me about your background, what kind of work were you doing before you launched Eager Tourist and Xhibition?

My professional trajectory is a bit abnormal. I started my career at a PR firm called WEILL in NYC, where I represented luxury hotels and travel destinations around the world to North America media outlets, specifically working on the Israel tourism account. I learned the tricks of the trade at this agency, and got my first taste into the vast world of luxury hotels, sharpening my craft of how to dissect stories from clients and to promote those ideas within the media. Simultaneously, I became entrenched in the idea of trotting the globe, meeting inspiring individuals with which I could fuel new ideas, projects and enterprises.

After four years grinding in NYC, I felt restless (and affected by the sun-less NYC winter), and was able to relocate to Tel Aviv with the job I had. Those transitional years between working from an office in Fifth Avenue in NYC to a home-office situation in my Mediterranean beachfront pad set off an alarm of ideas that I could no longer ignore. I realized that in Tel Aviv there was a real lack of international media representation and “channels” for architects, hotels, artists and designers to show off their craft and brilliance. This was the ideation for creating Xhibition. Meanwhile, Eager Tourist was born out of my travel photography blog, which blossomed into a full-fledged experience and tour platform in Tel Aviv — where locals could be the actual guides as opposed to standardized tour guides. The two companies — which offer separate services — have fortunately blossomed and are now picking up steam in locations beyond Tel Aviv (NYC, Europe, Asia).

Having lived in NYC for a while, what drew you to Tel Aviv?

NYC will always be home but my love affair with Tel Aviv is as strong as ever. The city is truly unique in terms of it’s DNA — a micro-metropolis on the Mediterranean, if you will — and has a certain ambiance that is hard to replicate in other cities. Tel Aviv may have been the first place I had visited where I wasn’t looking at my watch, checking the time and restless to move on. The city truly sucks you in, for better or worse.

What do you think a New Yorker would like about Tel Aviv?

Tel Aviv is like New York City on steroids, but in a much understated and clandestine way. You can compare Tel Aviv to having the energy and raw attitude of NYC in the ’80s and ’90s, with gentrification knocking on the door but not fully realized. You cannot disregard the epic Tel Aviv beachfront, a slice of the Eastern Mediterranean that most travels forget about, but which is truly vibrant and full of life and energy. I can go on and on, but one thing I can’t forget to mention is the street food and dining scene in Tel Aviv is on the same level, if not greater, than most marquee cities in the world.

What have you found is the most popular Eager Tourist eager tourist experience, and why do you think that is? Which one do you think is the most underrated, that people should take advantage of more often?

The Local’s Only Nightlife tour of Tel Aviv is certainly the most booked experience that we currently offer. I find that visitors to Tel Aviv are looking for experiences that aren’t advertised to foreigners, so we curate a lineup of parties, events and private tables in the newest and best clubs, bars and venues in town. The Film Photography experience is truly unique and travelers should take notice! I’ve been shooting exclusively with film cameras for the past five years, and this experience translates the skills and insight of capturing vibrant images into a walking route led by working Tel Aviv fashion and street photographers.

Can you tell me about some of the newer experiences and tours you’re adding to Eager Tourist? How do you adapt these experiences to keep up with the interests of the present time?

Definitely. Our new direction is pivoting into more niche experiences. For instance, this month we will launch a Vegan cooking experience that puts you in the very home kitchen of a leading Tel Aviv chef to learn about local produce, ingredients, culinary methods and ending with a fantastic meal in a lush Tel Aviv garden. Another idea is to offer a gay tour of Jaffa, the neighboring district of Tel Aviv that is more multicultural, with Arab, African and also Israeli populations, offering an alternative to the cookie-cutter LGBT tours during PRIDE.

You are also adding a hotel booking component, what is the Tel Aviv hotel scene like? Do you see more cool, boutique hotels opening up? Is there a demand for that?

That’s correct! We are painting the full circle of what travel is: temptation, inspiration, adventure. So you can read about an incredible experience in Tel Aviv and book that experience on our website. But what about a hotel or bolthole that we know our guests will enjoy? We need to go the full distance in order to create that panoramic travel experience championed by Eager Tourist.

Tel Aviv’s hotel scene is growing rapidly, especially boutique properties in the urban center as as well as the beachfront. During high-season in Tel Aviv, there is still a shortage of up to several thousand hotel rooms. Certainly, this need for new hotels is raising the bar of hospitality in Tel Aviv and forcing new businesses to better themselves in terms of design, service and overall experience, which in my opinion is much needed.

In our modern digital age where we have information coming in from everywhere, what do you think the value of ‘hyper-locality’ is?

Many travel and touring companies are coining themselves as hyperlocal these days. But in order to truly be hyperlocal, you need to live, work and play on the very streets and buildings in one’s locale. In a city like Tel Aviv, new places open and close on the daily. Being on the pulse — or being the pulse itself — requires physical presence. Eager Tourist defines hyperlocal as exploring beyond the published or popular locations an extracting the essence of a city in physical experiences beyond the surface.

Do you foresee expansion to different cities in the future? Does a concept like Eager Tourist make more sense in smaller cities versus bigger cities like London, NYC, Paris etc.?

Absolutely — however with Eager Tourist, the focus is to launch in more obscure cities such as Porto, Tbilisi and Jerusalem, which have less awareness but a lot to offer travelers, or could be inspired to visit. Eager Tourist was born in NYC and launched in Tel Aviv, but is a truly a universal platform that can adapt and distill a city into a meccas of experiences, while championing its local creatives.

Check out Eager Tourist to see the kinds of experiences you can book, and get a peek into Belfer’s own personal travels

[Ross Belfer; photos courtesy of Eager Tourist]

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