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20 Aug, 2015

World Bank Project Provides Hospitality and Tour Guide Training to Palestinians

WEST BANK, August 17, 2015 (World Bank media release)—Spanning more than 300 kilometers in the West Bank, and continuing across Jordan, Israel and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the Abraham trekking path is considered one of the world’s most attractive tourist destinations.

Along the path, which follows the footsteps of Abraham, a prominent historical figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, entrepreneurs have set up guide shops, guest houses, restaurants and much more. In the West Bank, the path provides thriving business opportunities for 53 communities along the path’s mostly rural corridor – some of them living below the poverty line.

“Opening our house to hikers is a great way to exchange culture with our guests,” said Mesadah Meaddi, host of a homestay in Kufur Malek, a village northeast of Ramallah. “It is an opportunity to share our opinions, and anyone who comes gains a new understanding of Palestinian women.”

A homeowner in Aqraba welcomes guests. Homestays have popped up along the Abraham Path giving tourists an opportunity to experience Palestinian culture and homeowners the ability to make a living. API/Frits Meyst

According to Meaddi, the benefits of this are mutual: “We are supported financially, and they have a chance to experience our life, culture, and home-made food.”

In 2014, with support from the World Bank Group, the Abraham Path Initiative and Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil, a partnership between the Palestine Wildlife Society, the Rozana Association and the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies, launched a pilot program aimed at creating jobs and providing more opportunities to generate income for local people along the Abraham Path.

The $2.3 million initiative, funded through the World Bank Group’s State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF), focuses on improving the lives of women and youth in particular and will inform how development agencies and governments enhance tourism activities in other fragile and conflict affected countries.

Specifically, the project provides local men and women with tour guide certifications, hospitality training, the creation of practical hiker resources such as maps, accommodation and transportation information, and the creation of promotional materials to educate travelers about the Path. The project has four key components: (1) Investment in People and Institutions; (2) Path Development and Marketing; (3) Business Development and Communication; and (4) Action Research.

“The project provides additional income to rural communities along the Path and supports female participation in the local economy,” says Ali H. Abukumail, the World Bank Group’s Task Team Leader for the project. “It is an innovative project that aims to diversify tourism services in Palestine, building on its cultural assets and social values.”

Since its launch last January, the “Masar Ibrahim/Abraham Path: Economic Development across Fragile Communities” project, as the initiative is known, has trained 25 wilderness tour guides and certified another 15. The project has created a partnership between local councils and associations, youth groups, women’s groups and NGOs – particularly important in conflict affected countries where the social fabric of communities is often torn. Altogether, just under 300 members of the community have been trained in different tourism activities and more than 800 local people are benefiting.

“The tutors gave us great navigation training,” said Naser Kaabneh, a tour guide from Al-Auja. “They showed us how to find our way without the use of modern technology, which is not always available in the harsh conditions of the desert.”

Despite significant security challenges, including the 2014 Gaza War, the Abraham Path project continues to improve the lives of people along its corridor. The Palestinian Authority, with support from development partners including the World Bank Group, expects to further scale up the project in the future.

“In addition to the socio-economic focus of this project,” said Abukumail, “we are also aiming to develop and disseminate lessons and insights that could be applied within the West Bank, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.”

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