Bethlehem Declaration - International Conference on Religious Tourism: Fostering sustainable socio-economic development for host communities


15 June 2015 - 16 June 2015


International Conference on Religious Tourism: Fostering Sustainable Socio-Economic Development for Host Communities (Bethlehem, Palestine 15-16 June 2015)

The Regional Programme for the Middle East has the honour to announce that an International Conference on Religious Tourism: Fostering sustainable socio-economic development for host communities, was held in Bethlehem on 15 and 16 June 2015.

Travel and Tourism for religious purposes have been closely interconnected since ancient times. The first travels had religious motivation led by pilgrimages to the holy places of the various religions and up until today visiting the sacred places of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and other religions, remains one of the main motivations for travelers from around the world.

The International Conference on Religious Tourism: Fostering sustainable socio-economic development in host communities provided a forum for tourism authorities, representatives of religious communities, the private sector, academia, international and regional development organizations, to exchange views, perspectives and experiences on how to develop and promote religious tourism as a tool for inclusive socio-economic development focusing on partnerships and initiatives that warrant the engagement and empowerment of local communities.

The Conference was structured around four key topics:

1. Global trends shaping religious tourism and the development of competitive products and experiences;

2. Challenges and opportunities for the development and promotion of religious tourism routes;

3. Innovative approaches to tourism management at religious sites, balancing heritage preservation and tourism development; and

4. Promoting the participation of host communities and enhancing the socio-economic benefits of religious tourism at local level.

The work carried out by UNWTO on tourism and world heritage sites, many of which have a religious significance, on tourism routes, often inspired by a religious character, and on spiritual tourism, contributed to enriching the debate.

Bethlehem Declaration (English)

Bethlehem Declaration (Arabic)

Final list of participants

Final Programme (English)

General Information Note (English)

Social Programme


Opening session speeches:

Minister of Tourism and Antiquities of the State of Palestine (Arabic)

State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan (English and Arabic)

UNWTO Secretary-General's (English)

Closing session speeches:

State Undersecretary of Culture and Tourism, Italy (Italian)

UNWTO Regional Director for the Middle East (English)

Bio notes and abstracts:

Session 1: Understanding religious tourism - motivations and trends

Kiran Shinde

Nayef H. Al-Fayez

Gianfranco Pinto Ostuni

Josep Maria Mallarach

Yonca Kösebay Erkan

Rami Isaac

Session 2: Religious heritage and tourism routes

John Eade

Maria Nava Castro

Dina Tadros

Barbara Chiodi

Koji Oyama

Hani Abu Dayeh

Session 3: Innovative approaches to tourism management in religious sites

Alison Hilliard

Adolfo Mesquita Nunes

Felicitas Wressnig

Szymon Gatlik

Issam Juha

Session 4: Inclusive socio-economic development of local communities – promoting partnerships that work

I Gede Ardika

Maru Acevedo

Keiichiro Takadera

Berit Lanke

Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna

Sheikh Abd El Majid Atta Al-Amarneh

Fida Touma