Facilitated freedom of movement for tour guides
An important step for the growth of Holy Land tourism was taken in 2007 when 41 Palestinian tour guides were granted access to areas previously restricted by the Israeli forces. Religious pilgrimages and tours to the Holy Land are considered to be the most important part of the tourism industry in Israel and Palestine; however, the freedom of movement for Palestinian guides has been severely restricted. PIBF initiated the talks between government ministries and tourism entrepreneurs that made this movement possible. The meetings addressed the problem of tourists being unable to keep their tour guides throughout their trip through the region and produced several pragmatic proposals, including special passports for guides or creating “Tourism Fast Lane”-solutions at border controls to ease movement. Eventually, movement restrictions for 41 Palestinian tour guides were temporarily lifted by the Israeli authorities, allowing Palestinian and Israeli tour guides to travel with their groups unrestricted through the check points.
Tour Leader Training Programme
In October 2009, PIBF organized an initial Church-to-Church meeting during its Annual Business Conference in Stockholm to explore the Swedish market for spiritual tourism in Palestine. Following the initial meeting, under the lead of the Diyar Consortium, a joint initiative was formed in June 2010 with the support of the Holy Land Incoming Tours Operators Association, the Arab Hotels Association and PIBF, with formal endorsement of the Swedish Christian Study Center/ Bilda, the Church of Sweden, and the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The project was initiated owing to the significant, albeit relatively untapped, growth potential of the Palestinian tourism sector. The initiative was based on five objectives:
- To increase the number of visitors and their time spent in Palestine, specifically from the Swedish market;
- To develop effective market channels for incoming travellers from Sweden, church representatives and specialized travel agents;
- To increase opportunities for interaction between international tourists and Palestinian communities;
- To provide a positive learning experience for international tourists;
- To stimulate spiritual contemplations, throughout the journey, inspiring discovery and exploration of means towards making a difference;
By February 2011, PIBF had supported the training of eleven tour guides. As of September the same year, an additional seventy-three visitors had travelled with six of the trained and certified ‘Nya Spår’ Swedish tour leaders. While the PIBF-supported pilot will continue to attract new Swedish visitors, the Diyar Consortium is now looking into adapting the project, using it as a pilot which can be customised to travellers from other key markets.