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Widening tourism's impact in the Holy Land

Ruins at JerichoRuins at JerichoMost visitors to the West Bank stay only a few hours, enough to tour Bethlehem's Church of the Nazarene and return to Israel that evening. Yet this abbreviated look not only misses out such sights as Hebron, Jericho, Hisham's Palace. Qumran and the Sea of Galilee (not to mention other attractions in Bethlehem itself), it deprives Palestinians of the income and jobs that tourist dollars bring.

USAID's Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) is working on several fronts to increase tourist time spent in Bethlehem and other West Bank locales. In January, the project (managed by CARANA) hosted a Tourism Day in Bethlehem to redefine a visitor's experience there. The goal is longer stays (more overnights), higher rates of return from accommodation rates (hotel modeling), and new products and revenue sources, such as special events, meals, culture/adventure/experiential tourism. The project is also working on ways to ease access into the city.

Bethlehem already leads the West Bank in tourism, with an estimated 1.5 million visitors in 2010 (a 48% increase from 2009). Over 25% of the Bethlehem’s working population is employed directly or indirectly in the tourism industry, which accounts for approximately 65% of the city's economy.

Through familiarization or "fam" trips for industry journalists and tour operators, EDIP is seeking to spread those benefits to other parts of the Holy Land. Two trips in 2010 have yielded positive publicity, most recently in a 10-page online online edition of Catholic Digest, which has a circulation of 350,000.

Published February 2010