Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel in May is expected to generate $50 million in revenues to the Israeli tourism industry, Paul Milwizki, general manager of the Regency Hotel Jerusalem said this week. He added that at least 40,000 pilgrims were expected to arrive in the country during the Pope's stay here.
According to Milwizki, all 6,700 hotel rooms in the capital have already been booked for the week of May 8-15 2009, and hotels in the Dead Sea area, the outskirts of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias and Tel Aviv are also forecast to enjoy full occupancy during the visit.
"If the State of Israel succeeds in leveraging this trip among the billion Catholics in the world, pilgrimage tourism to Israel in the second half of the year could increase by hundreds of thousands of visitors," said Avi Ela, general manager of the Caesar Premier hotel chain.
El Al CEO Haim Romano visited Brazil and other South American countries last week in a bid to promote pilgrimage to Israel ahead of the pontiff's visit and the opening of a direct flight service between Israel and Brazil.
Also last week the Tourism Ministry held a first meeting dedicated to preparing for Benedict's visit and Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila said it could constitute "an important anchor for pilgrimage tourism to Israel in the coming years."
According to Avraham-Balila, the ministry recently launched extensive efforts aimed at promoting Catholic tourism to the country in May. Tourism Ministry data reveal that about two-thirds of all tourists to Israel in 2008 were Christians, and a million of them were pilgrims.