The State of Israel plans to invest some 6 million shekels in tourism upgrades and renovations in anticipation of the upcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI, slated for May. The multi-million-shekel investment by the Tourism Ministry will include preparations at such sites as Qasr el Yahud, the Good Samaritan site and the Cenacle (site of the Last Supper), among others.
Preparations for the visit began this week with the first of a series of conferences to discuss activities to promote Christian tourism to Israel. Among the participants were incoming tour operators specializing in the Christian market, the Israel Hotel Association and representatives of the municipalities that will be included in the Catholic leader’s itinerary.
Three million tourists visited the State of Israel in 2008, noted the ministry in its statement to the media. Of those, two million were Christians, half of whom were pilgrims. Most of the tourists visited Christian and Jewish sites in Jerusalem, the Galilee and Bethlehem.
Marketing activities are expected to include preparation of promotional material to be distributed to journalists accompanying the Pope, who is the spiritual leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. The ministry will also arrange tours and visits to tourist sites for the papal delegation and the media.
“The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land is an important and very significant visit that represents a strategic anchor for pilgrimage tourism to Israel in the coming years,” noted Tourism Minister Ruchama Avraham-Balila. She added that the visit would also strengthen Israel’s image as a central point for pilgrimages and tourism, “especially in this period when the tourism industry is dealing with the ramifications of the global economic crisis.”