The joy of celebrating Christmas in the Holy Land is back. 2008 has already been bumper year with figures predicting 2009 will be even better after the Pope’s announced visit next May.
Foreign tourists who fled en masse following the second intifada in September 2000 are coming back to the birth place of Jesus in their droves.
This year, the influx in tourists has seen the arrival of 1.6 million people. A boon for hotels, which find themselves at bursting point.
Manager of Bethlehem’s Intercontinental Hotel in Bethlehem Jonny Qattan said: “Tourism has improved tremendously during this year, from the middle of this year till now tourism has improved a lot”
But it’s not just the hotels. Restaurants, gift shops and tour guides are all enjoying the surge. The up-turn has seen tourism become the Holy Land’s top earner, which has resulted in 12,000 new jobs.
Mayor of Bethlehem Victor Batarseh said: “In the Christmas time we are expecting 35- to 40-thousands tourist coming that night, actually because we are having an average of 100- to 120- thousands tourists a month, beginning of this year. So we are really happy and joyful.”
But, this tourist boom isn’t simply down to luck. After the second Intifada, the downturn became so bad, both the Israeli and Palestinian tourist boards decided to work together. In 2005, they launched a major campaign in Europe and America with the motto. Guaranteeing security for travellers.
Eight years on, the wall erected by the Jewish state is in stark contrast to Israeli Palestinian cooperation in tourism.
Efforts that may offer a glimmer of hope for future cooperation in finding peace.