Tours to Palestine have been increasing during 2008, in concert with the increase in tourists to israel. According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), tourism is up 71% in 2008 compared to 2007, and, up 18% since the year 2000. PCBS also reported that 769,000 people visited the West Bank during the fist half of 2008.
This is an encouraging sign, as more tourists feel comfortable traveling to the West Bank. Hotels also reported an increase of 40% occupancy from the same period last year. Bethlehem remains the most visited palestinian city with 66% of all tourist traffic visiting the city. Unfortunately most visitors only come for a day-trip from israel, arranged by Israeli tour operators who discourage staying in Palestinian hotels.
A great deal still needs to be done in order to increase the number of tourists to the levels that Palestine/West Bank deserves. A decrease in Israeli restrictions on Palestinian travel would go a long way to help the situation. Currently only a small fraction of Palestinian tours guides have permits to enter Jerusalem and pick up tour buses. Palestinian buses are forbidden from entering Israel to make their own pickups while israeli vehicles may enter Palestinian areas freely. This imbalance needs to be addressed.
However the encouraging year of 2008 bodes well for the future as Palestinian hotels and tour agencies gear up for a successful 2009. With more promotion abroad about the attractions of Palestine tours, the trend will continue. The current economic and cultural renaissance in Ramallah is going a long way to helping attract more tourists to the West Bank as more hotel rooms become available and the city's offerings gain more depth.