Quotes: US MENA   Enter Symbol: NewsLetter: Search: advanced

Bethlehem eyes tourist boom after dark decade  Join our daily free Newsletter

MENAFN - AFP - 22/12/2013

No. of Ratings : 0
Add to Mixx!


 


(MENAFN - AFP) After a decade of unrest, Bethlehem has seen a surge in visits to Christ's traditional birthplace, raising hopes of a tourism bonanza in the West Bank town despite Israel's separation barrier.

The Palestinian territories' top tourist destination is a victim of the barrier which cuts off the town from nearby Jerusalem, just 10 kilometres (six miles) away.

Israel began work on its sprawling barrier -- dubbed the "apartheid wall" by Palestinians -- in 2002 at the height of the second intifada, or uprising.

It defends the construction as a crucial protective measure, pointing to a drop in attacks inside Israel as proof of its success.

Palestinian tourism minister Rola Maayah sees the barrier as a key obstacle to encouraging visitors to the town.

"Bethlehem, one of our main tourist attractions is circled by 27 settlements. As a result, we are surrounded by high walls, fences and menacing checkpoints which put tourists off," Maayah said.

"We could develop tourism, attract people from all over the world, but it's not possible because of the Israeli occupation," she added.

The expansion of nearby Israeli settlements has deliberately helped to isolate the city, Palestinians say.

But since a UNESCO decision in June 2012 to grant world heritage status to Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity -- hailed as a "historic" diplomatic victory by the Palestinians -- the town has been eyeing a tourist bonanza that could boost the local economy.

In Bethlehem, where nearly one quarter of its 25,000 residents are unemployed, two out of three households rely on tourism for their income.

Between 2011 and 2012, more than two million people visited the town. The record crowds brought much-needed revenues after a tough decade for tourism during the second intifada.

"There was a significant jump in tourism in Palestine in 2012 with an 18 percent rise in the number of visitors," Maayah said. A little over half of these were foreigners.

With 3,800 rooms, Bethlehem accounts for nearly half of the West Bank's hotel capacity. But the occupancy rate (65 to 70 percent) is unevenly distributed throughout the year.

"We are booked up in advance for Christian holidays, but there are lots of empty rooms the rest of the year," said the deputy head of the Bethlehem board of commerce, Fairouz Khoury.

To redress this imbalance, Vera Baboun, a Palestinian Catholic and Bethlehem's first female mayor since 2012, aims to encourage visitors to stay longer.

"Our visitors should know that Bethlehem is not just about the nativity," said Baboun.

The pilgrims -- who mostly come from Russia, the United States and Poland -- descend on the town by the coachload, queueing to see the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's oldest and holiest, leaving immediately afterwards.

Those who linger for more than a few hours are rare.

"This year our motto is 'Come home for Christmas,' which means: take the time to wander around the alleys of the Old City, talk to the residents, help them to live here," Baboun explained.

"Bethlehem is not a museum," she said.

Palestinian tourist guides have also complained they suffer because of the favourable treatment granted to their Israeli competitors.

Some 150 Israelis are authorised to work as guides in Bethlehem, compared with 42 Palestinians permitted to work in Israel and east Jerusalem, the chamber of commerce said.

"They take more than 80 percent of the market," complained Mohammed Awadallah, a Palestinian guide.

But Israeli authorities, who have long courted the lucrative market in catering to Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, deny the accusations.

"We do everything we can so that Christians can visit the holy sites," Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said.


 






  MENA News Headlines


 






Google

 
 

Middle East North Africa - Financial Network

MENAFN News Market Data Countries Tools Section  
 

Middle East North Africa - Financial Network
Arabic MENAFN

Main News
News By Industry
News By Country
Marketwatch News
UPI News
Comtex News

IPO News
Islamic Finance News
Private Equity News

How-To Guides
Technology Section

Travel Section

Search News

Market Indices
Quotes & Charts

Global Indices
Arab Indices

US Markets Details

Commodoties

Oil & Energy

Currencies Cross Rates
Currencies Updates
Currency Converter

USA Stocks
Arab Stocks
 

Algeria 
Bahrain 
Egypt 
Iraq
Jordan 
Kuwait 
Lebanon
Morocco 
Oman 
Palestine
Qatar 
Saudi Arabia 
Syria
Tunisia 
UAE 
Yemen

Weather
Investment Game
Economic Calendar
Financial Glossary

My MENAFN
Portfolio Tracker

Voting

Financial Calculators

RSS Feeds [XML]

Corporate Monitor

Events

Real Estate
Submit Your Property

Arab Research
Buy a Research

Press Releases
Submit your PR

Join Newsletters


 
© 2000 menafn.com All Rights Reserved.  Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Advertise | About MENAFN | Career Opportunities | Feedback | Help