The inevitable questions that get asked about travelling to Israel are issues of safety, security and travel.
Some myths need to be dispelled. Yes, Israel is no longer the experience of the first century, now there are air conditioned coaches and top quality motels. Pilgrims have been visiting the Holy Land since the first century and with centuries behind them in welcoming tourists, you will be looked after.
In my sphere of ministry I know of others who are Holy Land tour leaders with other tourist organisations. Their experience is much the same as mine. Follow directions, keep an eye out and simply, be sensible.
The Israeli Foreign Affairs has now released their 2013 tourism figures which I first saw in the Bridges for Peace newsletter and then followed the link to the original report.
Sea of Galilee
2013 was Israel's record year for incoming tourism with 3.54 million visitor entries. During the first three months of 2014, this trend has continued, with about 775,000 visitors entering Israel, 3% more than the same period in 2013.
In 2013, Christians represented more than half (53%) of all incoming tourists (those staying more than one night), 96% of day visitors and 78% of cruise visitors. In total, over two million Christians visited Israel in 2013, about 60% of the 3.54 million total visitors. Visitors includes one-day and cruise visitors. Tourists refers to those staying more than one night.
Of these Christian tourists, about a half were Catholic (49%); 20% were Protestants (the majority Evangelical ); 28% were Orthodox (mainly Russian Orthodox) and 7% were from other Christian denominations.
About a million (40%) of these Christian tourists defined themselves as pilgrims; about 30% said they were in Israel for sight-seeing and touring and the remainder for other reasons.
Hezekiah's water tunnel under the Wailing Wall
The major source countries for incoming Christian tourism are: USA; Russia; Italy Germany; UK; France; Ukraine; Poland; Spain; Brazil.
The major source countries for incoming Catholic tourism are: Italy; USA; France; Poland; Germany; Spain; Brazil; UK and Mexico. These nine countries represent 65% of all Catholic tourism into Israel.
About 40% of all Christian tourists and about 50% of all Catholic tourists define the purpose of their visit as a pilgrimage.
Characteristics of Christian pilgrims
â€¢ Average length of stay: 8 nights (average tourist 8.5 nights)
â€¢ 83% visit within framework of an organized tour
â€¢ 80% of pilgrims are first-time visitors
â€¢ 20% of pilgrims are repeat visitors
â€¢ 90% stayed in hotels, of whom 84% stayed in hotels of average standard
â€¢ Level of satisfaction 4.5 out of 5, higher than the average tourist in Israel (4.3)
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html