PALESTINE (eTN) – Palestine was blessed by prophets, artists, writers, revolutionaries, and many other personalities of its own children. As a destination, it is also blessed by many holy places, geographical diversities, and even extraordinary sites. History, heritage, and denominational mosaics are also part of the whole destination. Occupation is one huge setback, but on the other hand, there is a power resisting this negative player in the Palestinian tourism industry. She is a Lady Minister – Dr. Khouloud Deibes.
For the past three years, Dr. Deibes served as the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. Coming from the background of being the head of a cultural heritage center in Bethlehem, her positioning in this filed has chosen to be the right choice. The proof is not her personality or her speeches but rather what the industry has accomplished during her era – a golden one under well-known circumstances. Even before, her traces are well found in the old city streets of Bethlehem and in many other corners. In the educational field, she introduced many opportunities and initiatives such as the EU Tempus Masters program with Bethlehem University, along with many others.
Today, to crown her term in 2010, the tourism contribution within the Palestinian GDP is the highest since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Its share is almost 15%, up from less than 10% last year. It is estimated at US$885 million. Once again, the hotels of Palestine reached their record number at 90 hotels, in addition to more than 40 guest houses and other hostels. Another Palestinian record this year is the giant number in local tourists – 2.7 million, which is almost double from last year. Together with incoming tourists, they are very close to the 5 million mark. With this number, the Palestinian tourism industry has passed a benchmark that has never been reached in the past, and the country is still under occupation.
She is here, she is everywhere, and she knows what is being said and monitors what is being done. With limited resources but wide experience, she leaves the freedom to the private sector and encourages the main players while facilitating their daily cycles, and above all, she keeps a Palestinian pride and identity high in front of the political and industrial competitors. Hand in hand with the private sector and the right people around her, she managed to run this marathon and manage Palestine as a sustainable competitive destination.
There is still a much wider area for improvement, and this does not count on the Lady Minister but on the public and private sector contribution and mainly on their cooperation. There is an obvious deficiency in this area, mostly because a huge part of the industry players are situated under full occupation in East Jerusalem and somehow cut off from the rest of the Palestinian territories. Surely the Lady Minister had some initiatives underway, but nothing materialized on the ground, and here it must be clear that without this kind of willing cooperation and for all to see the national sustainable gains and aims of the industry in one eye. there will not be enough for all at the end.
The destination is obviously still in need of more capacity. Tour operators were fighting for more rooms. Guides are under Israel restrictions and threatened by laws that when applied might be devastating in cutting their ability to move freely and losing their competitive edge. Cooperation from the religious leadership is also very vital. From church leaders to Al Awqaf, both parties should also be involved in the sustainable development and success of the industry since the main source of tourism is pilgrimages.
Lady Minister is providing a golden opportunity for the tourism industry to pick up its pace and keep a momentum in its development of a destination. Cooperation is needed at all fronts, and to all industry players I say, “You have a central player… point your compass there, at her.”