Ahead of the Christmas and yuletide days, hotels in Bethlehem are booked fully as tourists from across the world are visiting the birthplace of Jesus Christ this year, thanks to the gradual fall in violence in the region over the past few years, media reports said.
As per Israeli government figures, the Palestinian city has received a record number of 1.4 million tourists so far in 2010 and about 90,000 more are expected to visit Bethlehem during Christmas and holiday season, up about 70,000 from last year.
While thousands of visitors are expected to throng the Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve, the governance foresees the surge in tourism as a boost to economy.
We believe that the economic situation in comparison to previous years is more stable and is improving, Samir Hazboun of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce was quoted as saying.
According to Israeli tourism ministry, the mutual agreement between Israel and Palestine over movement of tourists last month and an improved security situation has also had positive effects on Bethlehem tourism.
Besides, increased cooperation between the Israeli tourism ministry and the tourism entities of Palestine over the last two years brought in over a million tourists to Bethlehem in 2008, and over 1.3 million in 2009, official figures indicate.
The two provinces of the Middle East, known for their long-time conflicts, are mostly visited by pilgrims. Jerusalem and Bethlehem are considered holy places to Christians because of the religious importance that both the cities hold. Bethlehem is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus and Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was crucified, according to the New Testament of the Bible. The regions have museums, heritage sites and ancient towns drawing a number of foreign tourists from across the world.