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Project to steer pilgrims to Palestinians


Just days after Hamas militants rained rockets on Israeli civilians, the Obama administration alerted contractors to a U.S.-financed endeavor whose aim is to have Christian pilgrims stay longer – and thereby spend more money – in Palestinian territory rather than in Israel.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which is financing the Enterprise Development for Global Competitiveness Project, on April 11 released a Request for Proposals (RFP), #RFP294-2011-204, seeking “innovative solutions to unique constraints on Palestinian businesses” in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to the solicitation, which WND located via routine database research, USAID identified tourism as one of the four most promising industry growth sectors for the Palestinians.

But tourism faces unique challenges that the EDGC Project hopes to overcome, such as the brevity of tourist trips to the region.

Two of the largest sources of visitors to Gaza and the West Bank, for example, are tourists who visit Christian sites, plus Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living abroad who visit for various reasons – “neither of which generates large amounts of tourism employment and revenue,” the RFP says.

The project’s objective for this sector is to “expand the number of visitors and the money that they spend in Palestine.”

One strategy to accomplish this objective is to develop incentives for tourists to engage in activities including and in addition to visiting sites venerated by Christians, it says.

While it is important to expand the scope of interest in non-religious Palestinian destinations, USAID acknowledged in an RFP attachment, #J-2, that “Most of Palestine’s visitors are religious tourists. Therefore, the immediate priority is to increase the number of sites of interest to religious tourists.”

Contractors selected for the project would help the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism to “harness the full potential of the historical, biblical, and archeological importance of Palestine’s tourism sites.”

Corresponding with the Palestinian Authority’s National Development Plan, 2011 – 2013, USAID has identified 10 “priority tourism sites” for potential development, including:

Despite the richness and variety of sites across Palestinian land, “the vast majority of religious tourists confine their visits to brief visits to the religious sites in Bethlehem. Since tourists often visit Bethlehem and then return to Jerusalem, they often spend little or no money in Palestine,” the RFP says.

“The tourism strategy must be to induce these visitors to spend more time in Palestine, visiting alternative sites, eating in local restaurants, staying overnight in Palestinian hotels, hiring Palestinian guides, and buying Palestinian souvenirs.”

The development of new tourist destinations and the renovation of existing sites would facilitate the attainment of that goal, it says.

“Site development will also extend beyond religious sites to nature areas and areas of archeological interest, in order to expand the range of Palestinian tourism,” the RFP points out.

Creating new destinations and improving the infrastructure of and between such sites could be supplemented by the targeted pairing of the Palestinian and Jordanian tourism sectors; linking the two regional sectors would improve the long-term prospects of Gaza and the West Bank succeeding as tourist hotspots, according to USAID.

“It must be recognized, however, that the numbers of these ‘new’ tourists will likely be small, at least initially,” USAID acknowledged. “However, the numbers of nontraditional tourists could grow rapidly, particularly if linkages can be established with Jordanian tourism.”

Aside from tourism, USAID contractors also will prioritize plans to hasten the development of the agriculture and agribusiness, stone and marble, and information technology sectors.

Although some of the larger Palestinian companies already have achieved some success in the global economy, small and medium enterprises, “which employ many more Palestinians,” have achieved less success, USAID says.

“The Palestinian economy stands on the threshold of an enormous opportunity for integration into world markets.”

USAID did not disclose the estimated cost of the project.