Tourists to exceed 2.8 million by end of year, says tourism minister

BETHLEHEM, Wednesday, The number of tourists and pilgrims who will visit Palestine by the end of this year will exceed the 2.8 million mark, according to Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Rola Ma’aya’a.

She told WAFA in an exclusive interview that there is a significant increase in the number of tourists and pilgrims this year compared to 2017, stressing that the number has reached until now 2.7 million, noting that most hotels are fully booked. She said she will wait to announce the final figures on December 24, Christmas Eve.

Ma’aya’a said she expects the number to increase even further next year, and that based on data provided by hotels and tourist offices, bookings are continuing this year, which means the situation will be even better at year’s end.

As for the overall tourism situation, the minister said that tourism has improved in cities such as Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah, based on the large number of tourists who arrived in Palestine. Hotels in Bethlehem were full in September and the surplus was transferred to Hebron hotels, as well as Ramallah and even to Nablus.

She said that at one time and during the opening of a hotel, occupancy rate on its first day reached 67%, indicating that the number of tourist groups is large and the occupancy is high, which means that all the hotels in the country are busy.

Ma’aya’a said there was a problem with long lines of tourists waiting to enter the Church of the Nativity. She said the doors to the church were open for three and a half hours in 2017, and in 2018 tourists and pilgrims wait all day without many of them being able to enter it to visit the church and the grotto. For this reason, the ministry got in touch with the heads of the three churches responsible for the church to find a solution to this problem.

She explained that work is underway to make internet bookings for visits for groups of tourists to assign the day the tourist wants to visit the church. She hopes to start work with this mechanism in the beginning of February of next year.

She said that in the past, tourists would spend only few hours in Palestine without benefitting the Palestinian market. Therefore the ministry had to convince the tourists to stay in Palestinian hotels.

“We also had to refute the Israeli claims that there is no security in the Palestinian territories, and we succeeded in persuading them through participating in international events and stressing that we did not have any problem with any tourist but that Israel wants to sabotage Palestinian tourism, she said.

In addition, through work with the private sector, new markets, such as: China, India and the Netherlands, were opened for the first time. Tourism offices in many countries and the media were invited to come to the Palestinian territories and to see firsthand the situation with the tourism sector and the facilities provided to make the stay of the tourist as comfortable as possible.

Ma’aya’a said that in the past the focus was on Christian religious tourism, which made up 96% of the tourists. Then there was an effort to encourage Islamic religious tourism despite of the obstacles imposed by the Israeli occupation. We encouraged Islamic tourism from Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia to Jerusalem and Hebron and we succeeded in that.

As for tourism projects, the minister explained that work is underway at Hisham Palace in Jericho to build a dome over the 850 square-meter mosaic in order to preserve the site. There are also efforts to develop other sites in the various Palestinian cities.

She pointed out that there are 250 hotels in the Palestinian territories that have 10100 hotel rooms, in addition to a large number of hostels.

The minister said harassment by the occupation could disrupt tourism, such as preventing tourists from staying in Palestinian hotels, and even visits to Palestinian cities and sites and forcing the tourists to sign pledges to this regard.

Tourists from Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia also need visa approval months before they could travel here.

She also talked about the difficulty in restoring sites in Area C of the West Bank in order to increase the number of tourists to these areas, which is a problem because tourists cannot visit these areas if they are not in good shape.

“The special thing about this holiday is that for the first time in history we will celebrate the largest number of tourists visiting the Palestinian territories with the highest rate of occupancy, said Ma’aya’a, pointing out that her ministry’s slogan for the celebrations will be “existence and survival.”

Source: Palestinian News & Info Agency

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