Tourism in Jerusalem

2016-07-18

Jerusalem is considered one of the most important cities for the three Abrahamic religions; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It is known to be one of the oldest cities in the world, representing vanished civilizations including the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mameluk, and Ottoman periods.

The Old City of Jerusalem offers a distinguished experience for tourists, with the diversity of cultures that are bounded by its walls, and the four main quarters inside it, namely the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. In the old city, tourists can explore the various cultural and religious sites, the markets of the old city, its streets, and the vibrant life of its inhabitants.

For many reasons, but mainly religious, tourism has been an essential sector for East Jerusalem. During the Jordanian jurisdiction of the city between 1948 and 1967, the tourism sector in East Jerusalem grew rapidly, and the city was attracting both Christian and Muslim pilgrims. The tourism sector contributed almost 14% of the West Bank’s GDP by the year 1966, proving its importance to the economy at that time. As the government invested in providing the infrastructure to promote tourism in East Jerusalem, the private sector invested as well in hotels and tourism related facilities. This period marked the establishment of a well regulated sector, with international and domestic networks (UNCTAD, 2013).

Since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the tourism sector and the economy as a whole were affected. The second Intifada had an adverse effect on this sector in Palestine and Israel. Figure 5 shows the sharp drop in the number of hotel rooms in the year 2001, as the number of hotels in East Jerusalem decreased from 43 hotels in 2000 (# of rooms) to 29 hotels in 2001 (#of rooms), and further to 21 hotels in 2002 as the political unrest affected the overall Palestinian economy. Ever since, the number of hotels and hotel rooms in East Jerusalem did not recover.

Source: PCBS

Fluctuations in occupancy rates and the number of visitors is greatly affected by political instability, and the hotel industry has witnessed a drop in its activity indicators over the past three years, as occupancy rates were reduced driven by a reduction in the number of overnight guests. The total number of guest nights did not exceed 366,124 nights.

There have been efforts lately to increase the number of tourists, and especially Muslim tourists to Jerusalem. Among these efforts, the head of the Association for Turkish Travel Agencies (TUSRAB) announced 2015 as a “Year for Jerusalem”, aiming to increase the number of Turkish tourists to the city to reach 100,000 as a contribution to the peacemaking efforts. Moreover, Jerusalem was also announced as the Capital for Islamic Tourism for the year 2015 by the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. The General Secretary of the Organization said that this cannot be achieved without tens of thousands of Muslims visiting Jerusalem, and calling on Jordanian and Palestinian travel agencies to facilitate this.

However, challenges exist when visiting Jerusalem, as entry is subject to Israeli visa approval, and remains a controversial issue among Arabs and Muslims who consider such a step to be normalization with Israel. Those who call for increasing the visits to Palestine and to Jerusalem believe that such visits would strengthen the Palestinian community that is suffering under Israeli occupation. It will also help protect religious and heritage sites and increase awareness on the Palestinian cause and the significance of the Holy Land.