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News Article

Israel focuses on religious tourism


Marketing highlights holy sites

The recently-appointed Minister of Tourism in Israel, Stas Misezhnikov, plans to shift the direction of the marketing of Israel by concentrating on Israel's unique tourism offering--the Holy Sites. In light of Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to Israel, Misezhnikov plans to actively target the Catholic market, as well as the Evangelical market around the world.

"What Israel needs to do is focus on what it has that others don't have, or in other words: the Holy Land," said Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov. "Israel is holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the focus of the tourism ministry today is to promote Israel as such."

Misezhnikov says that there are hundreds of millions of Evangelical Christians around the world who only need to be encouraged in order to visit Israel. In a campaign in the Americas, the Israel Ministry of Tourism is using the "Visit Israel - You'll Never Be the Same" advertising campaign to reach the Evangelical and Catholic markets, speaking to the spiritual transformation that takes place when one visits Israel.

"The Holy Land--and at its center, Jerusalem--is the best tourist attraction we have; no competition," said Misezhnikov.

When the Pope visited Israel in May, the tourism ministry launched a dedicated website to document the visit. Of the 3 million Christians who visited Israel in 2008, 1 million were Catholics.

"The visit of the Pope represents a strategic anchor for Christian tourism to Israel in the coming years and the Tourism Ministry will operate in all areas to realize the great potential in this type of tourism," Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said last month.

Israel is also targeting increased tourism from Russia, the second largest source market after the United States. In 2008, 360,000 Russian tourists visited Israel. The Ministry of Tourism notes that most of the tourists were "regulars" who came for historic, religious, cultural, or rest and relaxation purposes. Historically, many Russian Orthodox pilgrims visited the Holy Land.

Religious coalition calls for fair tourism to Palestine

While Israel is actively pursuing religious tourists, particularly in the USA, the Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism has called for fair tourism to Palestine. The call is issued to both pilgrims and travel organizers. The coalition represents churches and other networks and is a high profile campaigner for ethical tourism.

Part of the statement from the coalition reads "The Holy Land is home to the three monotheistic and Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a rich repository of sites considered precious and of deep religious significance by believers around the world. These sites attract pilgrims in the thousands as illustrated, for instance, by media images of visitors participating in Christian Lenten events. Around the world, too, many travel agencies organise pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Obviously, to the Israeli authorities, these are an invaluable source of tourist dollars."

"However, unfortunately, these encounters do not occur in a peaceful environment. The whole region is under a pall of conflict and suspicion. The territory in Palestine is under the control of Israeli law and administration that persists with the closure of the West Bank. The Israeli tourist industry discourages visits to the West Bank except for brief, controlled visits to pilgrimage sites. "

"In the interests of justice for all, ECOT calls on the pilgrims and the travel agencies which arrange these pilgrimages not to dissociate them from a living context - the situation confronting the Palestinian people. "

The statement draws attention to the fact that Israel controls entry to Palestine, and that pilgrims are often discouraged from using Palestinian hotels, but instead bussed into holy sites in Palestine in Israeli vehicles, with little opportunity for interface with the local population, who are hence denied access to tourist income.

Belhassen and Santos (2006) discuss political dimensions of American evangelical pilgrimages to Israel. Brin (2006) discusses political dimensions of tourism to Jerusalem. Weidenfeld discusses religious needs in the hospitality and tourism industries with reference to Christian (2006) and Muslim (2008) tourists to Israel.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 19 June 2009
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism