The following is the executive summary of the Master in Tourism Destination Management thesis by Sarah Hussmann. The complete thesis is available for download by clicking on the image to the right. 

Introduction, Problem Analysis and Key Findings

The importance of (pilgrimage) tourism for Bethlehem, whether from a religious, economic or political point of view, is undisputable: In religious terms, the city is one of the three most sacred cities for Christianity; pilgrimages have been existent for over 2000 years. The recent declaration of the Church of the Nativity (the Birthplace of Jesus) and the Pilgrimage Route as World highlights Bethlehem’s richness in cultural and religious heritage and aroused the student’s interest to further examining the implications. In economic terms, Bethlehem displays the core of tourism activity in the whole West Bank; a growth of the tourism sector, an increase in tourist arrivals and the development of tourist infrastructure between 2000 and 2009 further illustrate the value of tourism business in town. Politically speaking, Bethlehem is the only site under control of the Palestinian Authority, presenting a certain ‘window to the outside world’.

However, tourism in Palestine and Bethlehem has often been threatened by political changes. The creation of Israel in 1948, the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967, the division of the West Bank in three areas in 1993 and the continuous construction of Jewish settlements inevitably led to a confiscation and destruction of Palestinian heritage. The author will also highlight that there are various stakeholders in the Bethlehem tourism industry that have different views related to the ownership and management of cultural and religious heritage: These stakeholders include the public sector, private sector, international donor organisations, religious authorities and religious groups/ the community. The private sector is a strong force in the industry whereas the public sector remains weak with limited efforts in setting up policies for the protection of heritage. Besides, there is dependence on international aid and funds in the rehabilitation of heritage due to the continuous restrictions of borders and access from the Israeli side, although the role of supranational organisations such as UNESCO is quite contested. Christian denominations have been claiming the heritage to be theirs for thousands of years now; it is unlikely that they permit a modification of rules such as the status quo. Christians and Muslims alike might not be aware of the importance to protect heritage. Above all, there is little collaboration among all these stakeholders and/ or limited co-operation among certain others. Despite the success of tourism, a rapid expansion of Bethlehem’s tourism industry and the adherence to traditions in religious places simultaneously might not allow a proper preservation, conservation and management of Palestinian heritage, which is the second problem to be addressed. Challenges might not only be faced in the management of heritage attractions, but also in the general organisation of the tourism industry that faces an unbalanced competition/ monopoly business, lacking policies and little diversification and integration of tourism products to obtain more revenues. As a result of the problem analysis, these circumstances contributed to the author’s wish to help by giving strategic advice to the two most important influential parties, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) and UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) on the future and ‘glocal’ management of World Heritage Sites and a more efficient collaboration. These achievements might reinforce Bethlehem’s tourism industry, increase benefits for the local population, improve the relationship among religious groups and tourism operators and strengthen awareness of the Palestinian’s heritage and identity. It is worth mentioning that ‘glocal’ is a combination of the words ‘global’ and ‘local; ‘glocal management’ stands for a holistic management that includes supranational bodies such as UNESCO World Heritage Committee AND the local community, religious authorities as well as tourism organisations.

Research Objective

The goal of the thesis was therefore to analyse the future management of World Heritage Sites in Bethlehem and the implications on the management of these cultural and religious sites in order to give useful recommendations about a ‘glocal’ multi-stakeholder-approach in holy site and tourism management to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) and Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) in order to achieve and maintain a declaration of Palestinian cultural heritage as World Heritage beneficial to the Palestinian tourism industry and the community.

Research Questions

The following research questions served to achieve the research goal. 1.) In how far are religious and heritage tourism important tourism segments and what considerations have to be made related to their management?, 2.) How is UNESCO organised, what is the current framework of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and what benefits and disadvantages does an inscription on the World Heritage List bring?, 3.) What current cultural and religious sites are existent in Bethlehem, how can these sites be effectively and strategically managed in tourism to stimulate present and future tourism demand and how can holy sites in Bethlehem fulfil the criteria set by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee so as to be adapted to and/ or maintain the inscription on the World Heritage List?, 4.) What current and traditional tourism products, tourism markets as well as tourism stakeholders and challenges to tourism and cultural heritage are there existent in Palestine and Bethlehem, taking into consideration the future implications of UNESCO on holy sites submitted to the World Heritage List?, 5.) How can the interaction on a ‘glocal’ level and the parties’ interests and power constrain or support positive tourism developments and how can this interaction be managed properly in order to meet the community’s needs within the membership in UNESCO?

Methodology and Analysis

A mixed in-depth secondary and primary research was applied. Research was exploratory, inductive and empirical: The theory and collection of data came first and was followed by the analysis of data to explore an under-researched area and to practically answer the research questions. In secondary research, a thorough analysis was given to quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (words) data as well as primary (e.g. text books) and secondary references (e.g. qualitative web sites and journal articles). For primary research, the data collection methods used in purposeful sampling were a combination of semi-structured interviews (34 in total of which 23 were held with Palestinian organisations and businesses, 5 with churches/priests and the rest with Palestine, heritage and tourism related experts), interviews with tourists/ pilgrims (20), interviews with locals (20-30) and non-participant and participant observations. A method of how to interpret the large data amounts had to be chosen: In coding, data sets were broken down into smaller segments smaller and arranged in themes: stakeholders were clustered in sub groups and their practice and relationships were analysed. Likewise, in the general management of holy sites, common things stakeholders (experts, organisations, locals, tourists) talked about were highlighted and prioritised. Observations luckily supported the retrieved ideas. Through memoing, the author reflected upon and interpreted the data in the writing of memos.

Conclusions and Recommendations

An assessment of adapted secondary and primary research led to the conclusion that there are different local, national and global conflicts as well as room for improvements present in the management of holy sites, heritage and the overall tourism sector owing to a variety of stakeholders and their interests/ exercise of power. However, the most significant finding is that, due to the tourism industry’s strengths – for instance the diversity of sites that can be holistically integrated in the tourism offer and the good will and expertise of certain stakeholders – it is not impossible to develop some management schemes for MoTA and WHC.

The major strategic advice that can be given is to improve collaboration among these stakeholders and to implement a ‘glocal’ multi-stakeholder approach, i.e. to set up a body that promotes, monitors and integrates the management, preservation and marketing of holy sites, attractions and heritage within tourism while including different interests. This body and the three entities that representing it (Working Group, Joint Collaborative Initiative and National Commission) respectively are explained in-depth in the later recommendations. Additionally, the activities the body needs to carry out will be adjusted in a ‘glocal’ management plan. It includes 6 major themes that need to be carried out in the future management of WHS: Improvement of Marketing and Information, Management and Marketing of WHS, Assurance of Sustainability, Development of Attractions, Upgrade of Infrastructure, Maximisation of Economic Benefits.


You can download the full thesis here.