Seasonality: Is It the Ultimate Fate of Tourism in Jerusalem?asala aqel
Seasonality: Is It the Ultimate Fate of Tourism in Jerusalem?
By Raed Saadeh
Jerusalem’s classical tourism has always depended on Christian heritage, and this will no doubt continue. Regardless of the benefits that this tourism has brought to Jerusalem in the past, however, its seasonal character and the increasing overhead costs to maintain a tourist establishment in the city are raising the toll on the potential sustainability of this type of business.
The Israeli separation Wall has deprived Jerusalem of its suburbs. It has choked every possibility to develop and improve its domestic tourism and business potential. The Wall’s impact on the city has not been only to deter people from entering the city and using its services, it has contributed to shifting the centre of Palestinian life to neighbouring cities, particularly Ramallah. This factor has negatively affected both Palestinian local tourism and foreign expat business potential in the city.
International pilgrimage to Jerusalem is in increasingly greater competition with that of Bethlehem, where hotels offer better rates and newer establishments. At the time when the number of Bethlehem hotels tripled after the Oslo agreements, “East” Jerusalem’s room capacity was cut in half due to the political circumstances. The Palestinian hotels in Jerusalem have yet to endure the fierce competition imposed by the Israeli hotels to attract guests. The number of rooms in Israeli hotels has grown to over ten times the number of rooms in Palestinian hotels since 1967. Their establishments are newer and their management is much more aggressive.
Among st what seems to be a dire tourism crisis for Palestinians in Jerusalem, is there hope on the horizon? Is there any possibility to convert the crisis into an opportunity for Jerusalem to reinvent its tourism product, programmer, and identity? The first thought that could come to someone’s mind in this respect would be that any potential growth in tourism would require new products and new channels. Jerusalem is a rich and diverse city historically, demographically, and culturally. It possesses an array of untapped resources that could be packaged, repackaged, and developed to provide a more diverse offer that targets a similar array of discerning guests. Examples of such attractions may include Sufi schools and zawiyas, the heritage of influential women in the city, the water systems of Jerusalem, and ethnic and cultural diversity, just to name a few. What makes this opportunity viable is the fact that the tourist is changing. Experiential programmers that promote further linkages with the local community attract more and more discerning tourists. The growing partnership and cooperation trends among the Mediterranean countries enhance such an opportunity and the availability of new technologies provides a growing capacity to lead a more competitive platform to access potential business.
In theory, this might sound appealing, but in practice it needs a great deal of innovation to sail in the right direction. Bridging theory and practice should maintain two elements: the first is to generate new ideas that make money, and the second is to maintain acute sensitivity to the local community, keen programmers to ensure its involvement, and new channels to link to its culture, traditions, and heritage. Tourism in Jerusalem should not only be about making money but about fostering cultural exchange as well. Indeed, this is a recipe for the future resilience of Jerusalem’s tourism. It is a call to make the best of what exists, to manage it as a community initiative, and to inject it with a lot of emotions and enthusiasm. Hence, creating local, regional, and international synergies are prerequisites for innovation in tourism and a tool to discover and attract new interest. The more Jerusalem innovates as a community, the less its residents may feel the impact of the growing crisis.
Innovation, partnerships, synergies, and new products are not straightforward elements. A unified community vision and a holistic approach are necessary to set and design a proper action plan that could benefit the Jerusalem community at large. One of the most interesting approaches and one that may actually prove to be ideal for Jerusalem as a community under siege would be to innovatively adopt cluster economics as pioneered by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard University; in particular, the way his theories apply to the community’s mobilisation of its resources and capacities. Indeed, this is only the first drop of rain. Such an endeavour requires a lot of research, and the knowledge it generates should be well disseminated into the community. It should promote the exchange of good practices, the creation of an innovative brand for Palestinian tourism activity in Jerusalem, and the linkage with the appropriate quality labels that could foster the city’s tourism development. It is about the appropriate strategic positioning for the city, a positioning that integrates the various sectors that exist in Jerusalem that are directly or indirectly linked with the tourism industry such as the commercial, the cultural, the religious, the educational, and the community-based sectors.
Tourism remains the main factor of growth in Jerusalem. The developmental approach should make the city attractive, accessible, and friendly. It should maximise the potential of supporting sectors that include culture and heritage activities and programmes, provided that proper integration take place within the tourism sector. It should include cultural itineraries, gastronomy, and fashionable cooking, and it should provide sustainable energy solutions, mobile applications, and social media tools, again to mention only a few.
In order to improve demand, Jerusalem must improve its supply and its service package. This requires that the members of the Jerusalem community depend on each other and co-create across the value chain. The key for this to happen is to foster networking activities, to maintain a bottom-up approach, to diversify the offer, to create profitability for smaller operators, to attract and develop the best talents and skills, and to be sensitive to the intelligence of the market.
Seasonality will continue to control the Jerusalem tourism industry until the city is able to reinvent itself.
Mr.Raed Saadeh is the co-founder and chairman of the Rozana Association for Architectural Heritage Conservation and Rural Tourism Development based in Birzeit. Mr. Saadeh is also the owner and general manager of the Jerusalem Hotel, a boutique hotel in Jerusalem, the current president of the Arab (Palestinian) Hotel Association, and the co-founder of the Network for Experiential Palestinian Tourism Organisations.
Originally Published in ” this Week in Palestine ” Issue No 187, November 2013.