Throngs of Christian pilgrims to be in Jerusalem for Succot

International Christian Embassy festivities will add $15-20 million to tourism coffers.

christian pilgrims 311 (photo credit: AP)
christian pilgrims 311
(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of Christian pilgrims will visit Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles celebration later this week.
According to the Tourism Ministry, roughly 7,000 Christian from 100 countries will participate in the event, which is sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
The thousands of pilgrims, who will stay in Israel for more than a week, are expected to contribute tens of thousands of overnight stays in hotels around the country and the overall income to the Israeli economy is estimated at between $15 million and $20m.
“Christian tourism to Israel, in all its streams, represents the main target audience on which the Tourism Ministry focuses its marketing efforts in order to increase incoming tourism,” said Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov. “In the framework of the new branding of Israel as the Holy Land with Jerusalem at its center, the ministry operates in all spheres in order to turn these pilgrims into ambassadors for tourism to Israel in their home countries.”
The ministry will operate an information booth at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, distribute information and flyers to pilgrims about the country’s tourist attractions and provide assistance as required.
On Thursday, Meseznikov will host a festive reception at the convention center for the heads of the Christian communities and will present a gift to Brazilian evangelical minister Renê Terra Nova, who with 1,000 participants leads the largest group of pilgrims coming to the event.
This week the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem marks its 30th anniversary.
The week of festivities will be Israel’s largest annual tourist event and the largest solidarity mission to Israel.
“The Christian Embassy has established a remarkable record of standing in support of Israel and a united Jerusalem over the past three decades, whether through our many humanitarian projects across the land, our advocacy efforts worldwide, or our annual festival gathering in Jerusalem. This event has drawn well over 150,000 Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem during the past 30 years, with a cumulative financial impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Rev. Malcolm Hedding, ICEJ’s executive director. “We look forward to celebrating our 30th anniversary with our Israeli friends and guests.”
Yossi Weiss, chairman of the Israeli Tour Guide Association, said that Christian pilgrims make up an essential part in the demand for Israel’s tourism product.
“Their support for Israel is not only political or faithbased.
They support us with their money, too. According to the figures we have, they make up a higher percentage than Jewish tourists and their patronage represents a significant contribution to the sector,” he said.
According to Weiss, many of the pilgrims stay at high-end hotels and nearly all of them hire licensed Israeli guides.
“The evangelical Christians in particular tend to come to Israel for relatively long stays of seven or eight nights and also tend to spend all their money in the Israeli shops.
The pilgrims tend to spread their touring all around the country and like to see all the places mentioned in the Old Testament. You won’t see them relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv or Eilat.”
Ami Etgar, director-general of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, said that pilgrimage was the second largest draw for tourism to Israel, following only vacation and travel as the main motivation for visiting the country.
Etgar said that the peak seasons for pilgrim tourism to Israel were in the fall and in the spring, in time for Easter celebrations.
While Meseznikov said that the ministry would be focusing on bringing in additional Christian tourists, it is also looking to develop tourism from the Far East. On Monday, Tourism Ministry director-general Noaz Bar-Nir signed a tourism cooperation agreement with his counterpart, Mr. Dao Suaming, director-general of the Shanghai Tourism Ministry. In the agreement, the two sides declared the importance of tourism as a means of promoting ties and agreed to work together to advance tourism between Israel and Shanghai, in addition to the exchange of information, advertising and the encouragement of investments and joint initiatives.
“The Chinese tourism market holds enormous potential for Israel and, despite annual growth, we have not yet begun to realize this potential.
The tourism industry in China in general, and in Shanghai and Beijing in particular, displays great interest in and is happy to cooperate with Israel. Simplifying the bureaucratic procedures and increasing airline traffic will facilitate a significant increase in incoming tourism from China,” Bar-Nir said.
In 2009, 10,000 Chinese tourists visited Israel and more than 7,000 have visited so far this year.