Turns out, the tourism business is booming, according to CNS:
With five new hotels in the works, a handful of new souvenir shops opening recently and nearly 40 restaurants able to serve crowds from 100 to 1,000, the Bethlehem economy is showing signs of recovery following the desperate intifada years.
For the first time in years, shop owners and tourist industry workers in the birthplace of Christ are optimistic and have confidence in the economy. For most, 2010 was the best year for business in a decade.
Outside the Church of the Nativity in mid-December, Nigerian pilgrims snapped pictures of each other as Russian pilgrims made their way into the ancient church through a small entranceway. Inside, groups waited patiently at the stairway leading into the grotto where tradition holds that Jesus was born.
“Coming to Bethlehem is always an exceptionally emotional experience,” said Father Filiberto Barrera, who led a group of Californian and Mexican pilgrims as they left the grotto to make room for another group. “We feel extremely safe here; the police outside are doing their job well.”
But the lines in the week before Christmas were modest compared to those of late November, the high season for tourists. Pilgrims waited up to two hours in a line that wound outside the historic church, said street vendor Khaled Omar, 47, who has been working in the tourist business for 33 years.
“Thank God, it has been a good year,” Omar said with a broad smile as he arranged embroidered tote bags and colorful beaded necklaces along a wall next to the church.
Some 10,000 pilgrims and tourists were expected to come through Bethlehem for the Christmas holiday, said Samir Hazboun, chairman of the board of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce. He said hotels in the Bethlehem triangle — with 2,750 rooms — are reporting full occupancy.