Could Tourism Do What Politics Cannot?

It’s very obvious that tourism brings millions of new visitors every year to Israel, yet many of these are not simply interested in Israel, they come to visit the ‘Holy Land’ – Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. We all know that exposing people to the reality on the ground changes perspectives, and so on, but beneath the changing of perspectives of tourists, interesting dynamics lie.

What is obvious but all to often overlooked, is that those tourists who travel across the Holy Land, must do so with the coordination of three nationalities of guide, transportation company, tour operator, and so on – Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian. That coordination and cooperation can only be achieved with strong inter-personal relationships, and shared goals. As is the case with tourism anywhere – a bad experience with one spoke in the cog is bad for business for everybody, and a great experience throughout benefits everybody involved.

The profusion of tourists visiting the Middle East and traveling across borders is pretty staggering. Whether religious tourists on a pilgrimage tour or independent tourists coming to explore out of curiosity, the number of tourists who opt to take a tour to Petra from Israel is incredible, with tours leaving daily from Eilat, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem carrying hundreds of visitors. A visit to Israel for many is a visit to the Holy Land, a visit to the Middle East, and that puts Israel in a position where it usually isn’t, a position where cooperation happens quietly and effectively. Visiting Petra is a natural part of that, and a naive tourist has no idea how perhaps unusual the cooperation that their business promotes is in this region.

Closer to home, cooperation with Palestinians is crucial for the tours of Bethlehem which once again, are not only of interest to a religious audience, as well as generally the growing interest in touring the West Bank to take in cultural sites. There is an unwavering awareness among those in the Palestinian tourism industry that strong relations with Israeli neighbors is crucial for business and security, but also, for the joy of sharing with visitors from around the world, the sites and sounds of religion and culture, and on a day to day basis, it becomes a non-issue.

Tourism doesn’t see borders, they are just a point on the map, and whilst the situation on the ground is far from perfect, it is clear that tourism is a key factor in developing economic and social ties. Projects are underway to support tourism cooperation and joint development yet even without these, a quick glance at any Israel package tour itinerary will see how intertwined itineraries are and how tourists are crossing borders every day which locals from all sides can only dream of crossing.

About the Author
Ben Julius is the founder of Tourist Israel, Israel's largest travel website.
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