When I first told people that I was heading to Bethlehem to help develop a strategic plan to grow visitation from roughly half a day to multi-day visits, most people thought I was talking about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
It was, in fact, the original Bethlehem in Palestine, but it was an easy mistake to make. If you Google “Bethlehem”, very little travel information can be found on the historic birthplace of Christ, but there are many results on the Pennsylvania town, as well as many other towns with the same name.
Our job is to work with tourism stakeholders in Bethlehem to develop a vision, action plan, and identify specific investment promotion opportunities for tourism that will help promote the region and extend the length of time people stay in the area from about half-a-day to two or three days. The longer people stay, the more they will spend and have a positive economic impact on the people of Bethlehem.
Luckily we are not starting with a blank slate, at the present time visitors to the region focus on two main attractions: The Church of the Nativity, where it is said Christ was born, and Shepard’s Fields.
However, in addition to these important sites there is a lot more to see. Among the region’s major attractions are the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the ‘Land of Olives and Vines,’ a hiking trail through ancient Roman terraces; the desert Monastery of Ma Saba; and the ruins of King Herod’s Palace. The food is also a tasty mix of Mediterranean and Arab cuisine, the culture demonstrates the area’s long and varied history, and the people are among the most welcoming I’ve met. All in all, it is a destination well worth visiting for more than just a couple of hours.