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December 23, 2014 8:33 am

Israel Readies to Welcome 70,000 Visitors for Christmas Period

avatar by Anav Silverman / Tazpit News Agency

Christmas in Nazareth, Israel. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher Pikiwiki Israel.

Jerusalem – The Israeli Tourism Ministry is working in cooperation with church officials and other bodies to facilitate the celebration of Christmas by 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.

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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 pilgrims’ 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 Landau and the representatives of the Tourism Ministry 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 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 into more tourism. A dramatic increase in digital traffic to the Tourism Ministry websites and social media was recorded around the Papal visit, with 1.16 million people around the world following the Pope’s 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% more tourists and 8% more visitors compared to the same period in 2013 (visitors include one-day and cruise visitors). Therefore, Israeli 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 tensions in the region, incoming tourism dropped significantly. The year 2014 is expected to end with a 1% decrease in tourists and 7% fewer visitors than 2013.

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