Michel Awad, Director of the Siraj Center in Palestine, in this interview shares his experience of developing responsible tourism experiences as a way to connect visitors with locals and to foster cultural exchange and peace. Learn about the different initiatives, the challenges – and the opportunity to experience Palestine as a destination with so much more to offer than pilgrimage tourism.
Our interview with Michel is part of a special series with winners and finalists of the annual WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow award.
- How responsible tourism products support rural development in Palestine;
- How Palestine as destination is diversifying, adding new offers to its pilgrimage experiences;
- The Masar Ibrahim hiking trail – recommended by National Geographic;
- How being a WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow award finalist has helped Michel Awad and his team to continue their work of promoting responsible tourism in Palestine.
Michel, what inspired you to focus your career on tourism as a tool for development?
Responsible tourism is a tool that helps improve and support the development of the tourism sector with a minimal environmental impact. Palestine suffers from a negative image internationally, but responsible tourism helps to change this perception. Moreover, responsible tourism serves as an opportunity to bolster local economies and foster new industries in areas that tourists do not typically visit.
I feel inspired and encouraged by the opportunities that experiential tourism products offer for visitors to get to know our culture first-hand: by meeting local people and getting involved in the community, travelers can completely change their perception of Palestine.
As a Tourism Management graduate and now lecturer, how has your view of tourism changed over the years?
There is an obvious change in Palestinians’ perceived importance of tourism, as well as in their awareness about it. It is clear that there are more locals who want to be part of the tourism industry, and more foreigners who want to come and explore the diversity of Palestine.
Palestine is increasingly becoming more than a pilgrimage destination: interest in experiential tourism is growing, and travelers are gravitating more and more towards activities in which they can experience Palestine’s culture, history and wilderness.
As Director of the Siraj Center in Palestine, which projects or initiatives during the last 10 years did you find the most rewarding for the Center’s international recognition?
The most important initiative we have worked on is the Masar Ibrahim. Siraj Center is one of the founders of Masar Ibrahim, which is the most important hiking trail in Palestine. It currently spans from the northern city of Jenin, down through the West Bank to a new section south of Hebron.
In 2013 Masar Ibrahim was selected #1 Best New Trail by National Geographic. Local communities were involved in its development, and continue to be involved as the trail is maintained and improved. We are extremely proud of the Masar Ibrahim and of the popularity it has already garnered from visitors looking to explore Palestine in a new way.
We have also been partners in developing Bike Palestine, a guided biking tour that goes from Jenin to Jerusalem. It is the first of its kind in the West Bank, and so far it has been very successful.
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