It was not all that many years ago that Bethlehem was a ghost town, as far as tourists were concerned. On the day I took the photo below, my students were almost the only tourists in town.
The situation for the city was particularly difficult because a large investment was made in tourist infrastructure in preparation for the year 2000. But the Arab uprising began in the latter part of that year, and tourists avoided Bethlehem, Jericho, and other Arab areas.
In those years, shopkeepers and hotel proprietors were desperate for visitors to stay longer. This year, you don’t even that choice, as there is literally “no room in the inn.”
From the Jerusalem Post:
Bethlehem has seen a record number of tourists this year and its thousands of hotel rooms are fully booked for Christmas week, thanks to steadily declining violence in the West Bank over the past few years.
So far this year, 1.4 million tourists have visited the traditional birthplace of Jesus and 90,000 are expected during the Christmas season, a significant increase over last year, according to Israeli government figures. The numbers of visitors have been rising steadily in recent years.
The town’s 2,750 hotel rooms are booked solid for Christmas week and four more hotels are under construction. The expected turnout for Christmas week is up strongly from about 70,000 last year.
How long will the upswing last? If history is any indication, not long.