With prospects of a renewed peace process on the horizon, Israelis and Palestinians are hoping this will also bring better times for the tourism industry.
Palestinian and Israeli hotel managers recently gathered in Jerusalem to see in which areas they could enhance cooperation, improve their services and boost their profits.
The seminar, an initiative of the Peres Center for Peace, was an opportunity for both sides to exchange ideas and learn to attract more tourists to the region.
“The hotel industry in all the Palestinian areas and in Jerusalem suffered a lot over the last seven years,” says Fahmi Nashashibi, owner and manager of the Golden Walls Hotel in eastern Jerusalem. “Only over the least year and half have we started to regain our strength.”
After violence between Israeli and Palestinian erupted in 2000, the Palestinian hotel industry lost hundreds of hotel rooms because of political and economic problems.
“Now we’re regaining our strength and moving forward because there’s more stability in the Middle East,” Nashashibi says. “To the Western person, this area of the Middle East looks more stable and safer.”
One of the main problems facing the Palestinian tourism sector is that tourists visiting places of interest in the Palestinian areas, such as Bethlehem, will spend the night in Israeli hotels.
The Israelis are aware this is a problem for their colleagues and both sides are trying together to come up with a satisfactory solution.
“The problem exists,” says Yanosh Damon, executive director of the Israel Hotel Managers’ Association. “Most of the tourists prefer to stay in Jerusalem instead of in Bethlehem and we are directing our marketing effort for incoming tourists to spend nights in Jericho and Bethlehem.”
This is being achieved by planning workshops for Israeli and Palestinian travel agents abroad. Tourism to both Israel and the Palestinian areas is being promoted through the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, Damon says.
Russell Kett, managing director of HVS, which specializes in hotel consulting and valuation worldwide, came to the seminar to help Palestinian and Israeli hoteliers build an effective business plan.
“They can appreciate that they have the same problems and that the same issues affect them,” Kett says. “When hoteliers come together they talk hotel speak. In any language it’s the same, it doesn’t matter where you are.”
Every business has a potential of being thrown off course by political or economic shocks, or terrorism, Kett says, “and any business has to be capable of withstanding them.”
Tourism officials maintain that the border crossings between Israel and the Palestinian territories are more tourist-friendly than they were in the past and that marketing has improved the region’s image as a tourist destination.
A sustainable peace agreement is what they hope for to keep the tourism industry stable.