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Negev in Jerusalem

Optimism in the Holy Land: ‘We are confident travel will come back strong’

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postedMarch 11, 2024
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The travel industry is like a boxer who cannot be knocked out. Staggered, maybe—even taking a knee briefly—but never knocked out. In the global ring, neither 9/11 nor the financial crisis nor natural disasters knocked travel and tourism out. And while COVID-19 had travel on the ropes, the world regained its balance and returned to the road, the air, and the waterways. 

Parts of the Holy Land have been in a real fight, though. Last October, the Hamas attacks in Israel led to a steep drop-off in tourism in that country. And when there’s trouble in one part of the Holy Land, neighboring countries will often also suffer a decline in visitation. Although Gaza and parts of Israel are still tumultuous in 2024, tourism has not been knocked out.  

Two NTA members (who are also members of the Faith Travel Association) assess their current situation with the same pugilist’s optimism that makes this industry so tough: Jill Daly of the Israel Ministry of Tourism and Romani Gaballa of Egyptian Educational Travel.  


Crowd at the Sphinx in Egypt
The Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt draws a large crowd. (Photo by Egyptian Educational Travel)

“Is it safe to travel to the Middle East? I will give you a practical answer,” says Gaballa. “Three weeks after the war started in Gaza, our company had two sizable faith-based travel groups. Both stayed one night at Ismailia City, right on the Suez Canal, so they could visit the Biblical land of Goshen. Our hotel was only 160 miles from Gaza border. Both groups had a great visit. They told us, ‘We never felt unsafe or uncomfortable at all.’”

Gaballa went on to explain that the fighting is taking place in a small part of a huge area, and in most of that area, life goes on as normal. 

But what about inside Israel? The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is telling U.S. citizens to continue to take caution, and tour operators can consult two U.S. state department webpages for updates: the current travel advisory and the department’s country information for Israel.

Operators can also check with their NTA partners about the safety of travel in specific places.

“Currently most areas in Israel are open and welcoming tourists back,” says Daly. “We recently had a Christian group (led by an NTA tour operator) who came for a tour, and they found the industry welcoming and friendly.”

That said, tourism in the Holy Land did take it on the chin in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and retaliatory airstrikes. 

“Bookings dropped from 110% to 70% between the start of the war and January 2024," Gaballa says, "but in February, it picked up again and we are receiving new requests for Egypt.”  

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Lions' Gate in Jerusalem
Lions' Gate, also known as Sha'ar HaArayot, in the Old City
of Jerusalem. (Photo by Noam Chen for the Israeli
Ministry of Tourism)

Daly describes a unique reaction her country experienced. “After the attacks of Oct. 7, we saw a windfall of voluntourism and solidarity trips to Israel, with many Americans anxious to show their support,” she says. “These trips have helped the country recover over a third of our travel market, even during these trying times.”

All tourist areas in Egypt are open and welcoming visitors, Gaballa reports, and Daly says most areas in Israel are open, too. 

“Some sites are open with limited hours,” Daly says. “Travel planners and guides are aware of this and plan accordingly so that visitors will have the best experience. If there needs to be a redirect, guides and planners can do that on an as-needed basis.”

Of course, this is not the first time regional strife has affected tourism, although every situation is different. This one has lasted longer, according to Daly, and her office tailors its advice.

“We tell travelers to use their own judgement as to whether this is the right time for them to come,” she says. “If they are prepared and want to show support, we want them to come. Israelis need the resoluteness and inspiration that tourism brings.”

And that confidence mentioned earlier? Both professionals say their country will answer the bell.

“Postponing rather than canceling is our message, and tour operators have been quite receptive,” Daly says.

Gaballa looks forward to the future—by looking at the past. “I am very optimistic about the future of travel to Egypt,” he says. “We are confident in the wise leadership of our government and the Egyptian president. Egypt is engaged with the negotiations between the two fighting sides to end this war, along with the U.S. and other countries. Also, Egypt has had a peace treaty with Israel for over 40 years, and we intend to keep it forever.”

Although the tourism industry in the Holy Land has taken a punch, Daly remains calm and optimistic when she talks with tour operators.

“We have seen an outpouring of support from our major source markets, with many tour operators saying they have clients at the ready whenever we are all clear, and others are moving ahead with plans despite the current situation.

“Right now, it is more about what groups are telling us, rather than what we are telling them, Daly says. “We are confident travel will come back strong.”

For updates and information, reach out to  Jill Daly (Israel) and Romani Gaballa (Egypt). To learn about NTA’s Faith Travel Association, go here: ntaonline.com/faith-travel-association.

Top photo: Bike riding in Negev
Photo taken by Alon Ron for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism