Friday, October 30, 2020

What is driving Palestine’s tourism boom?

By The Palestine Monitor - October 30, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [Tourism] [UNESCO World Heritage Site]

Palestine topped the UN list for the fastest-growing tourism industry, a recent report by the UN World Tourism Organization revealed. According to the report, Palestine saw a 57.8 percent growth in the number of foreign tourists in the first half of 2017.

The report said that if the amount of foreign tourists travelling to Palestine continues at a similar pace, the number of tourists to Palestine could reach 630,000 by the end of the year.

Indeed, the streets of Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Ramallah are packed with tourists enjoying the weather, cheap accommodation, and discovering a new culture.

“People tell me 'welcome, welcome’ all the time, sometimes they even invite me inside their houses or they offer me coffee, it’s really amazing,” one young tourists from Poland told Palestine Monitor in Bethlehem. She said she keeps getting lost in the labyrinthine streets of the Old City, but shopkeepers always help her find her way around.

She is traveling with her friend and both confessed that they were originally a bit afraid of coming to Palestine as they thought it could be dangerous. “But in the end, we feel safe,” she concluded. The two young women had visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem before and said they could feel the difference, and understand how occupation impacts the lives of Palestinians, but that it did not impact their holidays so much.

Indeed, Palestine has been relatively quiet in recent months, and tourists are often surprised to find a place easy to navigate. “For us it’s very easy and safe to travel, and we haven’t had any problems so far,” Ditte, a young student from Denmark said after a few weeks travelling around Palestine.

The media reported less on the violent side of everyday life under occupation, and highlighted other aspects, such as UNESCO labelling the village of Battir World Heritage Site in 2014, or Hebron being awarded the title of World Crafts City in late 2016.

Palestinian tourism also benefited from various initiatives to expand the range of activities available in the country. Donkey riding was revived both in Jericho and Nablus by young entrepreneurs. A couple of years ago, websites such as Paltrips or Visitpalestine started to promote alternative tourism. Even guided tours started to offer new experiences to tourists, such as the initiative “TO BE THERE 'in Palestine’” which takes visitors on geopolitical tours as well as inside local artists’ studios.

Overall, the range of opportunities is widening for those who wish to visit the country. The tourism scene is increasingly professional, upscale and hip. A well-known example is the Walled-Off Hotel - an initiative from renowned street artist Banksy, combining accommodation with a museum - which opened earlier this year in Bethlehem. Microbreweries, nice coffee shops or art galleries are also burgeoning.

As the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities tries to further develop this field, many challenges remain.

The UN World Tourism Organization was supposed to vote on Palestine's membership in the 165-member organization on September 13. However, the Palestinian Authority withdrew its request. Media reports in Palestine and abroad put this down to pressure from the United States and Israel.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson clearly stated there had been efforts on Israel's part to block the application, and added that Israel’s position is that the State of Palestine does not exist, and therefore it cannot be accepted as a state at the UN or in any of its affiliated organizations.

If the Palestinians had applied and obtained membership, it would have been the second UN organization, after UNESCO, to accept their full membership.

Photo: hiking in the West Bank

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