In expectation of a return to the levels of Christian pilgrims coming to Israel from around the world for Christmas, the Israel Ministry of Tourism is ready to welcome approximately 120,000 faithful expected to arrive in Israel for the Christmas period. From 14:00 on Christmas Eve (December 24) through to 02:00 on Christmas Day, the Israel Ministry of Tourism will offer free roundtrip shuttle transportation for tourists and pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for the festivities.
The ministry is also offering free shuttles to pilgrims and tourists to and from Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
And Jerusalem Santa Issa Kassissieh sent Christmas greetings to the world from a hot air balloon. He does so every year in different locations around the Holy Land to deliver his festive message of Christmas and this year he did so against the background of the Old City of Jerusalem. This year’s event came as tourism to Israel continues to climb towards pre-Covid pandemic levels.
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In addition, a Christmas greetings video featuring Jerusalem Santa Issa Kassissieh in Nazareth, in the North of Israel, was released on social media. The short movie, which was made by the Nazareth Municipality in cooperation with the Israel Ministry of Tourism, features the Jerusalem Santa as he distributes presents to local children in the city where Jesus spent his childhood.
There is no breakdown of incoming tourism statistics by religion or by sites visited available yet for 2022. However, these are the estimated figures, based on 2019 statistical breakdowns:
The government estimates that about half of all incoming tourists are Christian. Therefore, an estimated 1.2 million Christian tourists arrived in Israel between January – November 2022.
20% of all tourists define themselves as pilgrims – namely 480,000 pilgrims January-November 2022.
It is expected that the number of pilgrims visiting Israel during the Christmas period will increase from 20% to 40%, with about 120,000 pilgrims visiting during Christmas week. This compares with about 135,000 pilgrims visiting Israel during Christmas week in 2018 and about 150,000 in 2019, Israel’s record year for incoming tourism.
This is against the background of a continuing recovery trend for incoming tourism to Israel. Based on the pace of tourist entries to date, it is estimated that incoming tourism in 2022 will reach about 2.6 to 2.7 million tourist entries, and within a short period of time, Israel will be back to pre-COVID record levels for incoming tourism (4.55 million tourists in 2019). There is significant and increasing global interest in Israel as an attractive tourist destination that offers a unique mix of religious, historical and cultural sites, an excellent climate, a vibrant culinary and entertainment scene, and a varied landscape.