Despite its ongoing conflict with Israel, private company Visit Palestine’s founder and general manager Sami Khoury insists visitors will not encounter war and will feel safe and secure.
At WTM London, The Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association (HLITOA) – which Khoury is also president of – in partnership with the State of Palestine’s Ministry of Tourism, invited media visiting its stand to enter a draw to win a press trip to Palestine in May 2017.
Khoury said Palestine is also planning to hold a fam trip, but has not finalised which markets it will target.
Palestine is recognised by 136 UN members, and since 2012 has held the status of non-member observer state in the United Nations – which amounts to a de facto recognition of statehood. Jerusalem, Jericho and Bethlehem all fall within it.
Khoury said a particular emphasis was being placed on the UK market this year – 15 years ago it was the third biggest market for Palestine, but has since fallen off.
Majed Ishaq, from the marketing department at the State of Palestine Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, said the UK and the USA governments’ travel advice had been “stricter” than in other markets.
At present the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which refers to ‘the Occupied Palestinian Territories’, advises against all travel to Gaza, all travel to parts of the Syrian border and all but essential travel to the city of Hebron in the southern West Bank. Travellers are advised to ‘stay alert’ in Jerusalem.
“It is nothing like the Palestine you see on the television - tourism is kept very separate and for years tourists have peacefully crossed the border with Israel,” said Khoury.
Tourism is estimated to constitute around 12-13% of Palestine’s gross domestic product and 2% of employment.
Visitor figures for Palestine have been stable over the past three years, averaging 1.5 million visitors per year, of which approximately 20,000 this year to date have been British and more than 160,000 Russian.
New source markets such as Indonesia, Turkey, Central European countries, India and Nigeria are growing, as well as niche products.
Alternative and outdoor tourism such as hiking and community-based visits are also on the rise, with hikes and routes spreading across the West Bank.
Palestine has 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of the newest is described as the largest floor mosaic in the Middle East, at the desert castle known as Hisham’s Palace.
During WTM London Khoury is also meeting with the travel industry and media to promote visitpalestine.ps which is a booking engine for hotels and tours and hosts visitor guides for 12 cities and destinations.
It will also be available as a smartphone app from December.