BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The number of tourists and pilgrims who will visit Palestine by the end of 2018 will exceed the 2.8 million mark, according to the Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Rola Maayaa.
Maayaa told the Palestinian Authority (PA)-owned news agency, Wafa, in an interview, “There is a significant increase in the number of tourists and pilgrims this year compared to 2017,” and stressed that the number has “reached 2.7 million until now,” and that most hotels are fully booked.
She mentioned that she will wait to announce the final figures on December 24th.
Maayaa said she expects the number to increase in 2019 and based on data provided by hotels and tourist offices, bookings are continuing, which means the situation will be even better at the year’s end.
She confirmed that tourism has improved in cities such as Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah, based on the large number of tourists who arrived in Palestine.
Maayaa said there was a problem with long lines of tourists waiting to enter the Nativity Church, noting that the doors to the church were open for three and a half hours in 2017, while in 2018 tourists and pilgrims waited all day without many being able to enter 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 start making internet bookings for touristic group visits to assign the day to visit the church.
The mechanism should begin at the beginning of February 2019.
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Maayaa 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.”
Maayaa 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.
Islamic tourism was encouraged from Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia to Jerusalem and Hebron and was a success.
She also pointed out that there are 250 hotels in the Palestinian territories that have 10,100 hotel rooms, in addition to a large number of hostels.
Maayaa said harassment by the occupation could disrupt tourism, such as preventing tourists from staying in Palestinian hotels, and visits to Palestinian cities and sites, forcing tourists to sign pledges to this regard.
“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 Maayaa, pointing out that her ministry’s slogan for the celebrations will be “existence and survival.”