Christian visitors to Israel will help boost tourism to record highs in the coming year, with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin expecting nearly 4 million total tourists in 2018, a half-a-million more than visited Israel this year.
Approximately 3.5 million visitors flocked to the Holy Land in 2017, with that number up from 2.8 million only two years ago. The Tourism Ministry is making a concentrated push towards focusing on Christian pilgrims, said Levin on Tuesday, investing in bringing pastors and other Evangelical leaders to Israel in hopes they will bring back the message of the Holy Land to their people, who will then come.
Speaking with Breaking Israel News at the Tourism Ministry’s annual Christmas and New Year’s reception in Jerusalem, which hosted top Christian dignitaries on the first night of Hanukkah, Levin explained that the Ministry works closely with tour guides and hotels that specialize in Christian tourism to help simplify the Israeli systems and bureaucracy for large Christian groups who want to visit.
In top months, such as October – the month in which Jews and Christians gather in Israel to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot – there can be as many as 16,000 Christian tourists in the Holy Land, according to the Ministry.
Among event participants were His Eminence Archbishop Aristarcos of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate; Father Francesco Patton of Custos of the Holy Land; Father Koryoun Baghdasaryan, a representative of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate; and Dr. Jurgen Buhler, head of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ).
Between 10 to 15 percent of tourists are Evangelical Christians, said Levin, who believes there is potential for growth in the demographic. The Ministry in the last several years has put a focus on the Evangelical community, working year-round to engage its members in Israel travel.
“An experience in Israel will change your life,” Levin told Breaking Israel News. “It influences the people around you and your family, and you need to do it and enjoy it.”
Levin said he believes two issues hold back Christian pilgrims from coming to the Holy Land. The first is security.
“There is a perception that Israel is a place with security problems,” said Levin. “When pilgrims come, they are surprised how safe it is here.”
Levin said that Israel has “the best abilities” to fight terror, but when it comes to personal safety, Israel is among the most secure in the world.
“You can go to the Tel Aviv beach at 2 am with no problem,” said Levin, citing one example. “We want Christians to understand they don’t have to be afraid.”
The second barrier is the belief that Israel is a holy and religious rite of passage, but not a great vacation spot.
“Of course, Israel is a place where pilgrims can come and pray and a place of religion, but Israel is also a great destination for a vacation,” said Levin.
Levin noted that the weather in Israel is nice most of the year; in the spring and autumn, temperatures are still warm and sunny. Israel also has a burgeoning culinary scene, beautiful landscapes and stunning nature reserves.
“You can have a vacation with the added value of being able to fulfill your dream of visiting your holy places,” said Levin. “Tourism enriches people and brings them together.”
When President Donald Trump made his announcement last week recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, he said he hoped to see Evangelicals from around the world visiting the Holy Land.
Levin said he is eager to partner with the president in achieving this goal.
“I am sure millions of Christians around the world were as excited as us hearing that declaration,” Levin expressed to Breaking Israel News. “And I am sure that even those who still prefer to ignore the truth will soon understand that Israel’s right over Jerusalem is undeniable.”
There are no fewer than 50 million Evangelicals in America who, according to research, are convinced of the literal truth of Biblical prophecy. A recent survey found that 82 percent of white Evangelicals believe that God gave Israel to the Jewish people.
Christians recognize Jews’ Biblical connection to Jerusalem through King David’s establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of ancient Israel.
I chose Yerushalayim for My name to abide there, and I chose David to rule My people Yisrael. II Chronicles 6:6
Jerusalem is also the location of both the first and second Temples, and according to the prophets, Ezekiel and Isaiah, all Israel awaits the rebuilding of the Third Temple.
But Hashem will…again choose Yisrael, and will settle them on their own soil. And strangers shall join them and shall cleave to the House of Yaakov. Isaiah 14:1
Since the Jews retook Jerusalem 50 years ago after its prophetic victory against the Arabs in 1967 Six-Day War, there has been greater freedom of movement and access to Christian and Muslim holy sites than ever before, said ICEJ’s Buhler.
“I want to congratulate the city of Jerusalem on being recognized by at least one government,” said Buhler. “Everyone knows that for 70 years Jerusalem was already actually the capital of Israel. We all know that Jerusalem was and always will be the capital of the Jewish people.”
Levin said Israel does not take its duties to protect the holy city lightly and that he is proud to be part of the group of government officials who play a role in making the Holy Land welcoming for all the nations.
“It is not only our civic duty,” said Levin, “but rather a great privilege.”