Tourism To Palsetine Impeded By Regional Unrest
Mideast chaos thwarts Palestine tourism
BETHLEHEM - Visits to the occupied Palestinian territories have increased negligibly in this year, well under projections a year before unrest struck half a dozen authoritarian states in the Arab world.
The Palestinian Authority had predicted some 2.5 million tourists would visit the territories in 2011, up from 1.9 million in 2010. After the unrest began in Egypt and elsewhere in January, tours to the region were canceled.
"We had been expecting more," Kholoud Daibes, the PA's minister of tourism, said Monday. "In the beginning of this year we had the Arab Spring around us, which has affected tourism flow to the area in general."
But other figures showed cause for optimism, Daibes pointed out.
"The more important figure is we have a 12 percent increase in overnights (spent in hotels), for a total amount of 1.5 million overnights in Palestinian hotels, which means we have been able to attract more tourists."
While there was a decline in new tourists, "we have been able to sustain the tourists of last year, which we consider a success given the fact that the Middle East was not considered a safe region to travel."
The West Bank's biggest tourism draw, Christmas, will cap the year with a big increase as usual. On Monday, Daibes and other Palestinian officials said they were ready to welcome tens of thousands of visitors.
"We have finalized all preparations to receive pilgrims during Christmastime," she said.
'Palestine celebrating hope'
The municipality in Bethlehem has erected a large Christmas tree in the square outside the Nativity Church and started lining the streets with red and green lights to mark the occasion.
This year's events are being held under the slogan "Palestine celebrating hope."
"We pray with hope for justice to end the occupation and have our own state here in Palestine," George Saadi, deputy mayor of Bethlehem, told reporters just a few steps from Israel's wall.
"We are praying for our independence, which is the hope for all Palestinian people."
"Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall, but Bethlehem welcomes everybody to come and celebrate here. We hope at a minimum to have 50,000 attendants," he added.
"We invite people from all over the world to celebrate with us."
Daibes, the tourism minister, says the slogan is "linked with the political situation, but it is a message that reflects hope for a better future, of serious commitment from the international community to end occupation."
The slogan means "we are very confident that next year there will be a state of Palestine. We will continue to work hard for this, we will continue creating a better reality" despite the challenges, she said.
"If we lose hope, as Palestinians, this will be not only too bad for us -- hope is the only way we can survive. And the main aim of our work ... is actually to enable us to stay. So, we stay.
"In spite of the fact that they continue confiscating our land, that the occupation continues with the illegal construction of settlements, we stay. We build. They destroy, we build."