The Israel Tourism Ministry is working in cooperation with the Church and other bodies to facilitate the celebration of the Christmas festivities for the 70,000 visitors expected to arrive in Israel for the Christmas period.
“This festive season carries with it a message of hope and peace and underlines the importance of family values and solidarity,” said Tourism Minister, Dr. Uzi Landau. “It reminds us how important it is that we preserve these values common to us all.
“The State of Israel has a close relationship with Christian leaders and we will continue to invest in the sites that are holy to Christians. Christians will always enjoy freedom of worship in Israel,” said the tourism minister.
Dr. Landau will host the traditional pre-Christmas reception for leaders of the Christian communities and churches in Israel at the Shimshon Center, Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem on Tuesday, December 23. Among the Church leaders attending the reception are His Beatitude Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III, His Eminence Vatican Ambassador Lazzarotto Giuseppe and the Custos of the Holy Land His Paternity Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
In recent years, the Tourism Ministry has invested close to NIS 100 million in developing and maintaining the infrastructure of Christian sites, in order to enrich the pilgrim’s spiritual experience.
These Christian sites include, among others, the baptism site at Qasr el Yahud near the Dead Sea, Mount Zion and Ein Karem in Jerusalem and the Gospel Trail in the Galilee. Other projects include the boardwalk from Tiberias to Capernaum, Korazim and Mount Precipice.
As part of the ongoing activities to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Tourism Minister Dr. Landau and the representatives of the Tourism Ministry in Israel and around the world meet regularly with Church leaders and communities.
The Papal visit to Israel in May 2014 brought thousands of tourists and pilgrims to Israel and, following the visit, hundreds of thousands more tourists who traveled to the Holy Land as a result. The Tourism Ministry invested about NIS 2.5 million this year in infrastructure and marketing to leverage the visit of the Pope and millions of shekel more in infrastructure projects and upgrades to the Christian sites in advance of the visit. A dramatic increase in digital traffic to Tourism Ministry websites and social media was recorded around the visit with 1.16 million people around the world following the Papal visit via the Catholic Facebook pages managed by the Tourism Ministry.
The year 2013 was Israel’s record year for incoming tourism with 3.54 million visitor entries.
In the first half of 2014, this upward trend continued, with an increase of 18 percent more tourists and 8 percent more visitors on the same period in 2013 (visitors include one-day and cruise visitors). Israel tourism was headed for another record-breaking year until the summer war broke out.
With the onset of Operation Protective Edge in July 2014 and continued tension in the region, incoming tourism was significantly affected. The year 2014 is expected to end with a 1 percent decrease in tourists and 7 percent fewer visitors than 2013.