2.4 million Christian tourists expected to visit Israel by the end of 2010, half of them pilgrims.

 Tourism Ministry prepares for arrival of 90,000 tourists for Christmas


Manger Square in Bethehem on Christmas eve, 2009 (Photo: Reuters)

(Communicated by the Tourism Ministry Spokesperson)

The Tourism Ministry is preparing for the expected arrival in Israel of 90,000 tourists over the Christmas period (which is celebrated over a two week period by the different churches) – about one third of them pilgrims. The tourists and pilgrims are expected to visit the holy sites and participate in the masses to be held in Bethlehem and Nazareth. The Tourism Ministry is working in cooperation with the heads of the Christian communities in Israel, the Israel Police, mayors, the Coordination and Liaison Administration (DCO), the Palestinian Tourism Authority and other relevant bodies in order to facilitate a speedy and welcoming entry and departure from Israel and ensure a pleasant visiting experience.

On Monday, 20 December 2010, Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov will host the leaders of the Christian communities in Israel, ambassadors, representatives from the various communities, representatives of the Palestinian private tourism sector and from Israeli pilgrim organizations, in advance of the Christmas holiday.

Due to the high volume of tourists expected to pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport, the Allenby and Taba border crossings, the Tourism Ministry is working in cooperation with the Airports Authority to ensure a speedy and comfortable passage for tourists. Extra brochures and explanatory material in various languages have been delivered to the tourist offices in Jerusalem and Nazareth, as well as Ben-Gurion International Airport and Rachel’s Crossing, and additional staff will man these offices over the holiday period.

In addition, the Ministry of Tourism will arrange free shuttle transport for pilgrims from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The shuttles will leave every hour on the hour from the Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity and return on the half hour, from Friday, December 24 at noon until Saturday, December 25 at noon. Ministry of Tourism employees will welcome the pilgrims and visitors with sweets in the spirit of the Christmas holiday.

This week, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov contacted the mayors of Jerusalem and Nazareth with a request to bring a festive feel, as every year, to the main streets and sites, while taking extra care to ensure cleanliness and decorate the streets so that the tourists and visitors will feel welcome and enjoy the festive spirit.

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov: "The Christian community, in its various denominations with hundreds of millions of believers, represents one of the central anchors for incoming tourism to Israel. The Tourism Ministry works with Christian communities in Israel and around the world throughout the year to increase collaboration with opinion formers, community leaders and the faithful who represent a bridge for peace and the opportunity to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Land.”

According to the estimates of the Tourism Ministry, 2.4 million Christian tourists – half of them pilgrims – are expected to visit Israel by the end of 2010, double the number who visited Israel in 2009. Most pilgrims visit Bethlehem, the Western Wall, Christian sites in Jerusalem such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, Mount of Olives and Capernaum.

The traditional Christmas Mass will take place at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth on Friday , December 24, after the traditional and colorful youth parade that takes place through the streets of the city. Senior Tourism Ministry representatives and the Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy will welcome the leaders of the Christian churches, ambassadors and Christian community representatives at a festive reception at the Salesian Church on Thursday,  December 23 at 18:00.

Schedule of events in Nazareth:

Thursday, December 23
18:00 – Annual reception hosted by the Tourism Ministry and the Mayor of Nazareth with the leaders of the Christian churches ambassadors and other public dignitaries in the Salesian Church. In the program: a special Christmas concert conducted by Imad Abu Sinai with guest singer Georgit Nofi.

Christmas Eve, December 24
15:00 – traditional parade of thousands of youth from youth movements, together with the leaders of the Christian communities, through Paul XI Street, Nazareth’s main street.
17:00 – Firework display, sponsored by the Tourism Ministry, to announce the opening of the festive Christmas celebrations
19:30 – The Christmas Mass in the Church of the Annunciation, in the presence of Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Patriarchal Vicar for Israel.

Christmas Day, December 25
Mass in all the Catholic Churches. The first Mass in the Church of the Annunciation will take place at 07:00. A festive Mass will take place at 10:00 in the presence of the Custodian of the Holy Land or Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo.

The Tourism Ministry is currently coordinating the details of pilgrim and tourist groups in order to facilitate easy passage through the border crossings. The Ministry of Tourism will also open a dedicated hotline, manned by Ministry employees, during the holiday period: Tel: 050-6214127 and 050-6214070.