Magdouline F. Salameh
Palestine is the land of diversity, other than its strategic location at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East; and its religious importance to the three monotheistic religions; it has a tremendous and unique potential of natural and historical richness that makes it a unique tourist destination in comparison to the countries of the world. If this potential is wholly managed to get the fullest benefits, this will highly contribute to the national economy and the prosperity of community, and will provide for a sustainable tourism in Palestine.
Since ancient times, the land has been welcoming thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, making of pilgrimage the backbone of the tourism sector activity and economy. After the coming of the Palestinian Authority, and based on the National Tourism Strategy, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities has been exerting all efforts to develop the tourism sector, and the tourism infrastructure has been noticeably developing. Today, the country has comfortable stylish accommodations, resorts, restaurants and cafĂ©s, rehabilitated religious and archaeological sites, museums, galleries, and handmade crafts that satisfy all needs and tastes.
National Tourism Strategy
The National Tourism Strategy is to have Palestine as a successful competent destination, and have its share of regional tourism arrivals, through developing and diversifying the tourism offerings, and promoting the richness in cultural, historical and natural resources. While religious tourism will remain the backbone of any tourism offer, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities together with stakeholders, are enhancing the tourism offer through creating experiential programs, and non-traditional itineraries in order to attract more visitors, and encourage them to spend more time and money in Palestine. More importantly, is to showcase Palestine as an independent destination that is not only an integral part of any visit to the Holy Land, but also to the region as a whole.
Roles & Responsibilities of the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities (MOTA)
The main objective of MOTA is to promote Palestine as an independent, safe and unique tourist destination, with the aim of increasing the share of Palestine from incoming tourism to the region, increasing the Palestinian national revenue, and providing job opportunities by the incoming tourism to Palestine; and moreover building bridges with the World, and replacing Palestine at the international tourism map.
This is being implemented through carrying out various projects; and promotional and cultural activities such as : developing foreign / domestic tourism, and tourist awareness in cooperation with the concerned parts and local community; representing Palestine at international tourist and cultural events; producing competent publications and tourist materials; preserving and rehabilitating the Palestinian cultural heritage and historical sites; rehabilitating the tourism infrastructure; and formulating a national strategy for tourism to guarantee a sustainable Tourism in Palestine through cooperation, and partnerships with the various concerned parts; in addition to cultural exchange.
General Department of Tourism Marketing & Media
Through its various departments it carries out the following:
Producing various multi-lingual tourist publications and materials, and providing proposals for new materials based upon the market needs and tastes.
Following up MOTA promotional Websites and Social Media, in addition to the audio & visual materials including promotional videos.
Providing the various local & international parts with the needed promotional materials. -Implementing tourist awareness programs targeting all related sectors such as schools, local community â€¦etc.
-Implementing domestic tourism programs and initiatives, in order to help in developing a flourished and sustainable tourism in Palestine.
Representing Palestine at International events and trade fairs, and placing Palestine at the International Tourism Map. MOTA takes part at around 12 tourist fairs annually the most significant are: Fitur/Madrid, Bit/Milan, TTG Rimini, ITB/Berlin, Emit/Turkey, WTM/London, and others in Warsaw, Romania, Brazil, Moscow, Ukraine, Dubaiâ€¦etc. MOTA also intends targeting new markets such as China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Latin America, Africa and others.
Providing foreign and local tourists with better services, and the needed informational materials, and help, through the establishment of well-equipped Tourist Information
Setting plans for marketing and promoting Palestine, in accordance with the Ministryâ€™s Tourism Strategy; in order to cope with the changeable trends of the international and regional tourist industry.
An Insight into the Tourism Sector
Points of Strength
The major point of strength of the Palestinian tourism sector is its diversity:
It has a rich natural heritage of wildlife and landscape. There are 49 nature reserves in Palestine with an approximate area of 500, 400 acres (making 7.7% of the West Bank area), and around 400 natural springs, in addition to the diverse species of birds, plants and animals. These are key elements for the eco-tourism which is a growing sector in the tourism industry.
It has a unique moderate climate.
It has a rich cultural and religious heritage.
Main Challenges and Points of Weaknesses that highly influence the sector
- The instability of the political situation, in addition to the regional and global wars.
- The economic crisis in Europe that minimizes tourist numbers and their expenditure;
- The seasonality of the Pilgrimage market which is the backbone of the tourism industry, as it is active in certain periods â€śbetween March and April for Easter, and between September and Novemberâ€ť.
- The Israeli occupation and its policy is a major external/internal obstacle at the same time, taking into consideration the Israel's unilateral control of the borders, and the restrictions on movements and access (for both tourist and Palestinian service providers; hindering the tourist flow and the development of itineraries, and strengthening the tourism package offered by the Israeli companies) preventing Palestinians from carrying out restoration or any kind of projects at key sites in Areas C, such as the coast of the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley or Sebastiaâ€¦etc.;
- The full control of the Israeli tourism agencies that limits the time spent by the foreign visitors in Palestinian
- locations and sites, the matter that significantly minimizes the economic benefit.
- Negative Palestine Image due to the Negative Israeli campaign worldwide resulted in branding Palestine as unsafe place to visit, and hence reducing the number of visitors to Palestine.
- Limiting the Palestinian tour guides from working in Israel by not granting licenses, pushing the tourists groups to choose Israeli tourists guides for both locations under Israeli control and locations in Palestine. Currently only 40 of 312 west banker guides are allowed to work in Israel.
- Weakness in reaching the Arab tourists: Muslims and Arabs of the neighboring Arab counties excluding Jordan and Egypt, cannot visit our country because of the Israeli-Arab relations. Crossing border to Palestine need Israeli visa, which is in many cases very difficult to obtain by Arab visitors; and many Arab governments such as Syria and Lebanon discourage their citizens of visiting Palestine, and also many Arabs refuse to come as they consider it a form of normalization.
- Damage caused by the Israeli occupation practices of land confiscation for the purpose of constructing the separation wall and settlements.
- Water scarcity is a critical problem, especially when talking about the Israeli practices.
- Hunting causes a decrease in many species, therefore it should be prevented including vegetation.
- Increasing number of visitors, and the non-organized trips to the various natural reserves, lead to destroying plants and trees.
- Centralization of tourism activity in some areas without any connection to other sites and activities.
- Weak strategy for the development of rural heritage, and the protection of cultural heritage sites, especially cultural sites inscribed to the UNESCO list of cultural heritage.
- Environmental problems such as uncollected garbage and littering, irregular tourism; and the over use of water resources are threatening the local cultural heritage and the natural biodiversity.
- Though the numerous current challenges that affect the tourism sector negatively and hinder its development, the Palestinian tourism sector has a wide margin on both local and international level for improvement:
- Palestine can offer various types of tourism most of them currently exist but need attention and development. The following components constitute a great potential if they are fully utilized, they can reach the goal of sustainable tourism in Palestine, and these include: Pilgrimage, the architectural and historical heritage, handcrafts, rich local cuisine, natural biodiversity and landscapes, Solidarity Tourism, and Business Tourism (a newly emerging trend in Palestine and the result of the rapid development and political changes in Palestine leading to an increasing demand by business visitors. The international delegations and donor projects have formed a new type of tourism in Palestine through the frequent visits to Palestine for business meetings and supervising projects under implementation). Moreover, the political environment has contributed to increasing the number of solidarity visits to Palestine, resulting in a higher demand for rooms in hotels, guesthouses and motels in Palestine. It should be noted here that solidarity tourism can offer opportunities for the creation of human relation programs for contact with the daily life of the population, outside of the traditional tourist itineraries.
- Palestine has public and private sources that can play a critical role in promoting Palestine as a safe secure destination through various collaboration initiatives such as:
- The Palestinian Embassies.
- The Foreign Embassies in the Palestinian territories.
- The Foreign Governmental agencies (Japanese International Cooperation Agency, Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, USAID, GIZâ€¦etc)
- The Palestinian Private companies. (Visit Palestine, This Week in Palestine JICAâ€¦etc.)
- The Palestinian Government. (Ministry of Tourism /Tourism Marketing & Media Department), Ministry of Culture, Ministry of External Affairsâ€¦.etc.). These sources give a good image of Palestine, and about the various tourism activities through the various provided information, but they are not giving a unified perception because of the different political beliefs and agendas. Tourists tend to obtain reliable information through their embassies who seem to give reliable information, so when they get information through their embassies, they will recognize and understand the difference between foreign and local media and this will defend the Israeli negative propaganda, and the local Palestinian sources become distinct and more reliable.
Palestine has the opportunity to enhance its image and to reach foreign visitors through various methods including the Internet and social media; cultural events in other countries, workshops and art. What is needed here is a good strategy and a good partnership between private & public sectors, in addition to collaboration with the Palestinian embassies outside to help carrying out certain events, promotional and advertisement campaigns.
- Encouraging investment, and adopting a well-planned strategy of allocating financial resources.
- Widening demand by expanding existing markets and developing new ones.
- Enhancing or developing a new strategic plan, to develop and widen tourism offer to expand business in the off-season and extract additional value from seasonal tourism.
- Developing and utilizing historical, religious, cultural and natural sites.
- Encouraging investors targeting diasporas.
- Enhancing branding methods.
- Organizing regular conferences and FAMTrips; hosting bloggers and travel journalists, this will help promoting Palestine and will increase demand.
- Carrying out continuous researches to find out gaps and to define reforms activities to develop tourism sector.
- Strengthening public-private partnership, networking and community participation in tourism activities.
- Recent recognition of Palestine as a UN non-member state, and the inscription of various sites at the UNESCO World Heritage List, is a significant opportunity for the protection and rehabilitation of these sites.
Following this brief analysis of the Palestinian tourism sector, it is clear that the main challenge that hinders the tourism sector other than the Israeli occupation, is seasonality where tourism flow is dependent on religious feasts and holidays, mainly Christmas and Easter for Christians and the Jewish holidays. Tourism activity is continuous though the Israeli obstacles but it is seasonal. Therefore, developing Eco and cultural tourism is one of the solutions that can help in leveraging the tourism industry in Palestine, and in contributing to the local economy growth. This leads to the following vision towards a sustainable tourism industry in Palestine:
By 2030, Palestine should have utilized the potential of Ecotourism and cultural tourism with government, industry and local community working in partnership, and adopting best development and marketing plans, contributing to the development of a more diverse and sustainable tourism, and a flourished economy.
Objectives: diversifying the Palestinian tourism offerings through the development of a strategy that brings together the public and private sectors into a close partnership; to conserve, rehabilitate and invest in the natural and cultural heritage sectors and raw materials; to develop and promote hand made products, involving the local community in this issue creating business opportunities for them and enhancing their local economy. 5: Recommendations
Diversifying the Palestinian tourism offerings through the development of a
strategy that brings together the public and private sectors into a close partnership, to conserve, rehabilitate and invest in the natural and cultural heritage sector and raw materials.
To increase localsâ€™ awareness regarding the natural and cultural heritages respect, their contribution to the local economy and the importance of their preservation. MOTA in cooperation with the related parts, should target schools and academic institutions to increase and apply tourism awareness programs.
Museums can be a key component for attracting tourists. Museums around the world have started to be venues for cultural activities and exchange through organizing conferences, seminars, hosting art galleries, photography exhibitions, bazars, musical concerts and workshops. They can also play a critical role at the political level, and in preserving the national identity, and defending false interpretation of history especially those strengthened by Orientalists books as in the case of Palestine. They lead to reconciliation, empathy, more understanding and solidarity.
Creating permanent art exhibitions, especially for Political Palestinian art such as the works of artists who reflected the Nakba and the story of resistance. They can be hosted in historic buildings, or in museums, the matter that defends the Palestinian cultural heritage and identity.
Promoting Dark tourism that can also play a good role, the Walled Off hotel in Bethlehem is one example, the separation wall and its paintings, such as Banksy that have become recently a point of tourist attraction.
Encouraging books exhibitions especially those related to works that reflect the story of Palestine and its issue.
Rehabilitation and restoration of cultural shrines and monuments, beautifying the surrounding areas by creating public gardens, and holding cultural activities on site. This will enrich the visitorsâ€™ programs if they are included in the various cultural itineraries.
Promoting thematic trails such as ancient villagesâ€™ trails, monuments trails, nature trails, museums trails, etc.
Implementing projects for the protection of the natural heritage in Palestine through:
Implementing a solid waste management plan which will include reduction, recycling, recovery and incineration.
Adopting a monitoring system of lead-free gasoline, catalytic converters and lower sulfur content in diesel fuel.
Developing additional water sources for agricultural irrigation. Building water reservoirs and wells.
Developing a water treatment & management plan for transforming polluted water into freshwater for the purpose of efficient water production and reuse, and water conservation.
Prohibition of hunting and vegetation, protection procedures.
Carrying out cleanup campaigns of natural springs, forests and cultural sites.
Preservation of springs and natural sites.
Encouraging the voluntary work of solidarity groups in tree planting, olive harvestâ€¦etc.
Organizing awareness campaigns targeting schools, universities and the local community on the importance of the natural heritage and its preservation.
Marketing tourism packages that cover the cultural, natural and environmental resources of the country. Packages that enable tourists to enjoy themselves at the various sites such as watching nature and birds while mingling with the native people such as at the Jericho Wildlife Monitoring Station. Activities such as watching Bird ringing/banding which is one of the scientific activities, enables tourists to learn more and enriches their knowledge. The Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities can have a fundamental role here through cooperation with the various concerned and involved parts, mainly tour operators, Ministry of Education, NGOâ€™s, and the Palestinian Environmental Authority.
Hosting public figures or Palestinian artists and singers known regionally and internationally, where they can take part at one of the FAMtrips, or tourism awareness initiative, this will have significant returns if well promoted and advertised for. Christmas is one good occasion.
Developing and Managing cultural sites, and Ecotourism which is a growing segment of the global tourism industry that contributes positively to the environmental, social, cultural and economic well-being of destinations, and local communities around the world, is of a great importance. For a country like Palestine, which has a rich cultural and natural heritage, this can highly contribute to the flourish of the local economy, and the prosperity of its communities.
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