Tourism Ministry Director-General Eli Cohen met with Palestinian Tourism Minister Mitri Abu Aita and Vatican representatives at the annual International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, in January to discuss ways to boost Catholic tourism to Israel.
The meeting followed a sharp increase in Catholic visitors to the country in 2004, which saw twice the number of arrivals of 2003. Thousands of Catholics passed through Jerusalem and Bethlehem over the Christmas season after Pope John Paul II called for renewed pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The Tourism Ministry reported that some 30% of the 1.5 million visitors recorded in 2004 were Christian pilgrims. Its most recent figures showed that in the first half of the year 52% of tourists were Jewish, 11% Christian, Protestant, 11% Catholic, 10% from other Christian denominations, and 5% were Muslim.
During FITUR, Israeli tourism officials also met with representatives from Brazil, a strong Catholic stronghold, in anticipation of planned charter flights between the two countries.
The cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian ministries follows an agreement the two had initiated in December to increase their working relationship on tourism matters.
Also as a result of the agreement, the Defense Ministry issued 500 work permits to West Bank Palestinians at the request of the Tourism Ministry, after it received complaints from East Jerusalem hoteliers that they have insufficient manpower to accommodate the increased tourist traffic to the area.
Recently appointed Tourism Minister Avraham Hirschson said that it’s his intention to build on the good relationship with the Palestinian Ministry to increase tourism to the region.
By Avi Krawitz
Courtesy of The Jerusalem Post