By Qustandi Shomali
Palestine enjoys a variety of features that hold outstanding potential for cultural tourism. Cultural tourism encompasses any form of travel that is concerned with experiencing cultural environments, which can include landscapes or the visual and performing arts. Visitors hope to experience distinctive local lifestyles, values, traditions, and events, and possibly engage in other ways of creative and intercultural exchange processes. Cultural tourism aims to attract those who are motivated by the desire to learn about other cultures, ways of life, habits, customs, traditions, and ways of thinking. This form of tourism is more in line with modern trends in the global tourism market and is thus likely to see a further increase within the tourism sector. Cultural tourism helps preserve cultural heritage, makes a positive economic and social impact, and establishes and reinforces identity; it also fosters harmony and understanding among peoples.
The main objective of efforts to develop cultural tourism in Palestine is to ensure economic, social, and cultural development as well as the preservation and active development of cultural resources and services. Based on the current situation, and to ensure that the development of cultural tourism in Palestine is sustainable, culture and heritage sites and tourism must be both preserved and consumed, which reflects two values that are, unavoidably, conflicting. The key principle of sustainable cultural tourism is responsible traveling, which requires the active preservation of culture and heritage traditions and values and ensuring that the welfare and identity, culture, and way of life of Palestinian society are respected and protected. The heritage and cultural sites that are conserved and developed for tourism use should provide sustainable opportunities that allow both Palestinians and foreign visitors to experience, understand, and appreciate Palestinian heritage and culture.
Tourism and conservation activities should benefit first of all Palestinian society, taking into account their social and cultural impact and avoiding disturbance to the local inhabitants. Thus, the local community must participate in generating and sharing tourism revenues. Activities should improve the social environment and quality of life, develop better recreational opportunities for the local community, and identify and support local initiatives for cultural development.
Cultural tourism destinations and sites must be managed sustainably to ensure that the values can be available to present generations and preserved for future generations.
If implemented well, cultural tourism not only brings about an increase in local production but also stabilizes the payment balance and increases budget revenues. It makes regional development more effective and balanced and improves the overall infrastructure, general living environment, and quality of life. Cultural tourism brings about growth in the GNP, increases budget incomes and tax revenues, creates new jobs, and preserves existing jobs.
Moreover, sustainable cultural tourism supports the preservation of natural heritage resources, considers natural limitations and carrying capacity, avoids the harmful effects of cultural tourism on culture and the environment, and ensures that tourism will contribute to the development of local communities, the cultural fulfilment of visitors, and the enhancement of Palestinian cultural and natural heritage.
There is an urgent need to train more people in how to prepare and implement projects linked to cultural tourism development and investment. Palestinians have an even greater need for tourism education programs than other societies, given their dependency on tourism to provide the funds necessary for overall economic development. Enhancing such training is a precondition if we wish to raise the quality of cultural tourism services. Such efforts could include the greater integration of cultural heritage issues in the regular secondary school curricula and the provision of flexible educational measures to respond to changes in the labor market, thereby securing constant opportunities to upgrade the training and retraining of people who are engaged in cultural tourism.
For these reasons, we need the active involvement of regional and local authorities in the processes of planning, decision-making, and implementation to ensure that cultural tourism–related investments are made along with improvements to the general infrastructure. We must invest in Palestinian infrastructure, services, and facilities related to cultural tourism in order to increase the level of comfort at sites, ensure that tourism investments are made also outside the established tourism centers, and ensure that cultural tourism interests are taken into consideration when making long-term infrastructure plans and decisions.
Based on the current situation and to ensure the sustainable development of cultural tourism in Palestine, it is particularly important to define the responsibility for the development of cultural tourism at the ministerial level. We must create a Palestinian cultural tourism national steering committee and a department for cultural tourism at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and adopt strategy documents on cultural tourism and development. It is important also to implement laws and adopt tough policies and regulations to protect cultural heritage and to create tax and investment policies that stimulate development in cultural tourism. It is vital in this context also that we promote awareness of cultural tourism and ensure that the general public supports the use of public funding to renovate, restore, and protect monuments, shrines, museums, and archaeological and historical sites.
As we develop cultural activities, we must strengthen the dimension of intangible cultural heritage in cultural tourism. Thus, focus can be placed on music and dance to develop cultural tourism. We must support handicraft traditions by creating adequate facilities and improving market venues. It is vital also that we implement quality regulations for food and drink and provide samples of local cuisine and local beverages for tourists. To ensure the success of such investments, we should conduct market research and create a database of information on tourism. Based on the results, we must upgrade our human resources, offer systematic training opportunities, and provide more knowledge and technical assistance to heritage authorities and owners of cultural, historical, and architectural monuments.
Sustainable cultural tourism necessitates the development of a Palestinian tourism product through the creation of tour packages to cover the sociocultural aspects of the local community. We have the possibility to expand tourist attractions. Once we create a product database, we should increase promotional activities, set up more tourist information offices, and provide information in multiple languages. Our streets should include more signs and information on how to reach cultural tourism sites. We could set up a Palestinian internet portal dedicated specifically to cultural tourism. It is important in this context that we strengthen the international marketing of Palestinian cultural tourism products, increase media-based marketing tools to support their promotion and sales, and monitor and improve product quality with available cultural tourism services. The opportunities for improvement are abundant, let’s get to work for the benefit of all!