International Conference on Religious Tourism: Fostering sustainable socio-economic development in host communities
Bethlehem, Palestine15-16 June 2015
The United Nations World Tourist Organisation and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Palestine organised an “International Conference on Religious Tourism: Fostering sustainable socio-economic development in host communities” the 15 and 16th of June in the town of Bethlehem. It was the first international conference oganised by an agency of the United Nations in Palestine, after UNESCO recognised the state of Palestine in 2014, and included in the list of World Heritage Sites both the Church of the Nativity of Bethlehem and the Cultural Landscape of Battir, south of Jerusalem.
The Conference was structured around four topics:1. Global trends shaping religious tourism and the development of competitive products and experiences;2. Challenges and opportunities for the development and promotion of religious tourism routes;3. Innovative approaches to tourism management at religious sites, balancing heritage preservation and tourism development; and4. Promoting the participation of host communities and enhancing the socio-economic benefits of religious tourism at local level.
Despite the serious difficulties that Palestine is experiencing, the conference was a success. It included speakers from 16 countries, and participants from 40 countries. Josep-Maria Mallarach, Steering Committee member of the CSVPA, represented IUCN, and Yonca Kösebay Erkan represented ICOMOS (the two advisory bodies of the World Heritage Programme) at the first session, devoted to Understanding religious tourism – motivations and trends, bringing in the global approach, and criteria for conserving the heritage and providing quality experiences.