During 2012, Israel’s record year for incoming tourism, 2.88 million tourists visited Israel (staying more than one night). About 56% of all incoming tourists in 2012 were Christian. About half were Catholic (808,000), and nearly 30% of all incoming tourists defined themselves as pilgrims.
90% of all Christian tourists visit Jerusalem. About two-thirds of all Christian tourists in 2012 visited the Dead Sea area (68%); Tiveria and the Kinneret (62%) Bet Lechem (60%) and just over half visiting Nazareth (56%) and Capernaum (55%).
The most visited sites by Christian tourists (who can include more than one site) include Church of the Holy Sepulcher: 84%; Via Dolorosa: 82%; Kosel: 82%; Har HaZeisim: 82%; Jewish Quarter: 79%; Church of the Annunciation: 61%; Capernaum: 55% and Yardenit baptism site: 46%.
Characteristics of Christian tourism: Average length of stay: 7.7 nights ; Average expenditure: $1483; Average expenditure per day: $187 per day; 83% visit within framework of an organized tour; 80% of all Christian tourists are first-time visitors; 20% of pilgrims are repeat visitors, with about 32% of them having visited within the last two years.
The major source countries for Christian tourism are Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Poland, Mexico (mainly Catholics); Russia and Romania (mainly Orthodox); Nigeria (Catholics and Protestants).
It is anticipated that over 2 million people will visit Bet Lechem in December 2013, almost doubling the 2011 figure of 1.18 million.
Since 2011, the Tourism Ministry has invested 86 million NIS in developing and maintaining the infrastructure of Christian sites in order to enrich the pilgrim’s spiritual experience. These sites include, among others, the baptism site at Qasr el Yahud near the Dead Sea, Har Tzion and Ein Kerem in Jerusalem and the Gospel Trail in the Galil.
Other projects include, among others, the boardwalk from Tiveria to Capernaum, Korazim and Mount Precipice. Future infrastructure projects at Christian sites include, among others, Tel Megiddo, the Old City of Jerusalem, Sussita and other sites in the Tiveria and the Galil region.
As part of the ongoing activities to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Tourism Minister Dr. Uzi Landau and the representatives of the Tourism Ministry in Israel and around the world meet regularly with Church leaders and communities. The Tourism Minister met recently with bothHis Beatitude, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Tual and His Beatitude, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III in order to discuss matters important to the Church and future collaboration.
Representatives in the Tourism Ministry are anticipating continued collaboration with the Church for the visit of Pope Francis, who is expected to visit the Holy Land in the first half of 2014. The Tourism Ministry invested over 3.5 million NIS in infrastructure and marketing the recent International Day of Faith celebrations held at Mount Precipice in Nazareth (November 17, 2013), led by the Latin Patriarch and attended by about 7,000 Catholic faithful from the region and overseas.
Targeted marketing campaigns take place around the world to Christian communities, encouraging tourism to the Holy Land. The ministry runs dedicated websites and Facebook pages for the Catholic and Evangelical communities.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)