17/12/2012 – Ynetnews
Ministry of Tourism to offer free transportation for Christian pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem, Bethlehem.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov will host the traditional pre-Christmas reception for leaders of the Christian communities and churches in Israelat Mishkenot Shaananim in Jerusalem on Monday.
The minister will send season’s greetings for Christmas to the Christian communities, and the Christian leaders present will call on the faithful around the world to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Also participating in the reception alongside the Christian leaders will be Tourism Ministry Director-General Noaz Bar-Nir and senior representatives from the Foreign and Interior ministries, who work in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry throughout the year to promote tourism on the Jerusalem-Bethlehem-Jericho track.
According to Tourism Ministry estimates, about 75,000 tourists will visit Israel during the Christmas period. Of these about 25,000 will be Christian pilgrims.
During the holiday, the Ministry of Tourism will offer free transportation, helping pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Buses will leave every 15-20 minutes from Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity, and back again and will operate non-stop from December 24 at 12 pm through December 25 at 12 pm.
Representatives from the Ministry of Tourism will welcome tourists and pilgrims at Rachel’s Crossing with sweets and cards in the spirit of the holiday.
Tourism Minister Misezhnikov will also host a reception for church leaders and representatives in Nazareth, with the participation of Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy. The reception will take place at the Gardenia Hotel Nazareth on December 19 at 6 pm.
Record year for incoming tourism
To date, the year 2012 will end as a new record year for incoming tourism. About 3.3 million visitors arrived in Israel up to the end of November 2012, and of these 60% were Christian tourists (52% Catholic; 21% Protestant and 10% Orthodox).
About half of all Christian tourists are pilgrims. Most of the Christian visitors to Israel also visit Bethlehem passing through Rachel’s Crossing and the various offices work to facilitate a welcoming, fast and comfortable transfer every day of the year.
According to the ministry’s 2011 Incoming Tourism Satisfaction Survey, about 87% of pilgrims were first-time visitors. Most pilgrims visit Capernaum, Yardenit, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa and Bethlehem.
Source countries where pilgrims represent a very high rate among those visiting include Indonesia (83%), Nigeria (82%), Poland (69%), Portugal (59%), Romania (57%), India (50% and Brazil (49%).
“About 60% of all visitors to Israel are Christian,” said Minister Misezhnikov. “The Christian community is a central anchor in marketing incoming tourism to Israel.
“Throughout the year, the Tourism Ministry works with the communities in Israel and overseas to increase cooperation with opinion-formers, community leaders and the faithful in order to promote and develop pilgrimage to the Holy Land.”