Palestinian Authority Tops UN List of Fastest-growing Tourist Destinations

Israel snags 10th spot on list. One can only imagine the potential for tourism growth in both places if and when the two sign a peace treaty

Participants run past Banksy's Walled Off Hotel during the annual Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem, March 31, 2017.
Participants run past Banksy's Walled Off Hotel during the annual Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem, March 31, 2017. AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

Israel and the Palestinian Authority were two of the places with the most dramatic rise in tourism in the first half of 2017, according to data published by the UN World Tourism Organization.

This year's list of 10 destinations with the most growth was characterized by two trends: an impressive recovery from terrorist attacks and tourists’ search for exotic locales that hadn’t previously been thought of as popular destinations. Nevertheless, it’s important to stress that many of these countries are still far from making the list of the world’s most popular destinations; they are merely the 10 that experienced the fastest growth compared to the same period last year.

Topping the list was Palestine, as the PA is called in UN publications. The UNWTO says Palestine registered a whopping 57.8 percent increase in the number of foreign tourists during the first six months of the year. If this rate of growth keeps up, the PA could finish the year with 630,000 tourists.

The Telegraph, the British daily that published the list, attributes the jump in tourism to the PA to the well-publicized opening of the Walled Off Hotel, a hotel started by the artist Banksy in Bethlehem. Though small and expensive, the hotel apparently raised awareness in Europe about the option of visiting the West Bank.

Israel, with impressive growth of 25.1 percent, edged into tenth place on the list. If the pace keeps up, it will finish the year with 3.7 million tourists.

The fact that Israel and the PA both placed on the list reflects a strong surge in tourism to the Middle East, as is evident from the UNWTO data. “Who saw that coming?” the Telegraph wrote in wonder.

It also reflects the fact that tourism to Israel and the Palestinian Authority are inextricably bound together. Most visitors to the PA come via Israel, and even those who come by way of Jordan pass through Israeli border control posts, thereby contributing their bit to the Israeli economy. One can only imagine the potential for tourism growth in both places if and when Israel and the PA sign a peace treaty.

Egypt is in second place among the countries that experienced strong growth in tourism this year. Assuming the pace continues, its 51 percent jump in the number of visitors would translate into eight million tourists this year. This is still a steep drop from the 14 million who visited the country in 2010, the year before the Egyptian revolution, but is nevertheless impressive.

Egypt is followed by the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean and Iceland ranks fourth. The latter’s 35 percent surge is thought to be in part due to the popular TV series “Game of Thrones,” which was filmed on the island, and partly thanks to Icelandair’s policy of offering free stopovers in Iceland to people en route between Europe and North America.

What makes Iceland’s data particularly impressive is that the country has a population of only about 250,000 yet hosts some 2.5 million tourists in its brief summer season – 10 times its population. An equivalent Israeli feat would require 80 million tourists to visit the country.

After Iceland comes Tunisia, which is recovering from political instability and terrorist attacks, followed by Vietnam, the fastest-growing destination in Asia (31 percent in the first half of 2017). The list was rounded out by Uruguay, Nicaragua and Mongolia in slots seven through nine.