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February 14, 2011February 14, 2011  1 comments  Tourism

Tourism is up in the Holy Land, big time. During 2010, an estimated two million people visited Bethlehem, a record year for the biblical destination. But, like Mary and Joseph so many centuries ago, most of the pilgrims could find no room at the inn.  

Because of the severe lack of hotel rooms - Bethlehem, for instance, has just under 2,000 hotel rooms - very few Christian pilgrims spend the night in Palestinian towns that host some of the Bible's most important landmarks. So, while tourism numbers are up, the Palestinians aren't seeing much increased revenue as most visitors move on to locations in Israel before they have a chance to spend any money.


Jacir Palace Intercontinental Bethlehem
Jacir Palace Intercontinental Hotel Bethlehem, courtesy Travelujah

The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities is looking to remedy the problem, and provide greater convenience for visitors who may want to spend a bit more time in the town of Jesus' birth, or explore the fascinating biblical town of Jericho, which just celebrated its 10,000th anniversary as an inhabited city.

Figures released by the ministry suggested visitors, especially Eastern Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims, would like to spend more time in these locations, but are simply unable to find adequate accommodations. Overnight stays in Bethlehem and Jericho increased by 51 percent in 2010.  "This growth and raise in visitors demand is being met with a constant increase and upgrade of the tourism infrastructure," reported the Ministry of Tourism. "New hotels, restaurants, and cultural centers, museums and resorts are opening up across the West Bank and East Jerusalem." 

Ancient Jericho

Tel El Sultan, also known as Ancient Jericho, photo courtesy Travelujah

The Palestinians are looking to nearly double the number of hotel rooms in both Bethlehem and Jericho over the next year. The region currently has 5,200 hotel rooms and another 1,500 are in various phases of construction. Recently three new hotels opened including a Movenpick and a  Days Inn in Ramallah - both oriented towards the growing commercial market as well as a Days Inn in Bethlehem, geared toward the tourism sector.  "The overall goal of the industry is to increase the number of rooms to around 10,000 in the next 7-10 years," according to the ministry report.  And the effort is not just about adding hotel rooms.  "Both the public and private sector are investing millions in developing, restoring and upgrading the industry," wrote Dr. Khouloud Daibes, Palestinian Minister of Tourism. "Recreational parks, resorts, restaurants, cultural centres, and new transportation fleets were all among the key investments over the past five years."

Palestinian Tourism Minister Dr. Khouloud Daibes and Travelujah CEO, Elisa Moed

Palestinian Minister of Tourism Dr. Khouloud Daibes and Travelujah CEO, Elisa Moed, at the Palestinian Investment Conference in Bethlehem

Daibes also stressed that while Christian pilgrimage will remain the focus of the Palestinian tourism campaign, "we are also developing alternative tourism through creating experiential programs and non-traditional itineraries. ...Biking, hiking, and bird watching activities are only a few of the initiatives underway."  

The improved tourism climate, both for the Palestinian and Israeli tourism industry, has prompted Israel and the Palestinian Authority  to create additional cooperative measures with regard to the tourism sector. And the payoff has been big. In 2010, both destinations enjoyed record tourism growth, and in January 2011, the strong growth continued with tourism up 17% over January 2010 levels. Many of the roadblocks within the Palestinian territories have been removed, Israeli tour guides and bus drivers are being allowed to work inside the Palestinian territories and the heavily used Rachel's Crossing border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem was opened continuously over a one month holiday period this year greatly facilitating visitor access.


Without question, additional cooperative measures are necessary and the region faces many hurdles before tourism can reach its full potential. But what is equally certain is that the Holy Land is a pilgrimage experience unlike anywhere else in the world, and it is encouraging to see local officials as well as the local private sector  taking that seriously and preparing the ground for even more people to come and encounter the Bible.


By Ryan Jones and Elisa Moed  for http://www.travelujah.com, the leading Christian social network focused on Holy land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

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