Since 2005, Siraj has been achieving its vision of becoming one of the most prominent and innovative organizations driving the development of responsible tourism, and re-branding Palestine as a destination for experiential travel and person-to-person connectivity.
The following is a brief overview of accomplishments in our 12th consecutive year of operation.
2017 Tour Programs
27 groups came through Siraj in 2017, with approximately 600 individual participants taking part in our programs. Late winter to early spring, then mid-autumn to early winter were the busiest times for our excursions, in part as these seasons are typically considered the peak of the hiking season. Programs that were in operation included the Nativity Trail, Bike Palestine, our Weekly Walk initiatives, and experiential pilgrimages in the northern and southern districts of Palestine as part of the Abraham Path.
Two new programs were introduced; Thru Hike and Jothorona. The Thru Hike program was created to meet the interest of a new type of hiking experience, while Jothorona is a new summer camp initiative aimed at Palestinians in the diaspora who seek to reconnect with their homeland.
Our primary market remains pilgrims and tourists from North America, the UK, Europe and Australia, with most group sizes fluctuating between 5 to 35 program participants. Our most popular programs remain centered on a balance of physical exercise, cultural and religious experiential discovery.
2017 was a particularly successful year with hosting academic institutions and non-profit organizations, including a 120-person group from Harvard University as well as program from Westtown School, Swarthmore College, Bilda and MercyCorps.
Communications, Marketing and Development
2017 was a year of significant year for the development of communications, marketing and public relations for Siraj. The Siraj website was rebuilt, with new text as well as a new layout. The structure of the newsletter was updated from an informational to marketing format, and a new general brochure was produced, as well as our NEPTO (Network for Experiential Palestinian Tourism Organizations) website portal.
Conference and travel show attendance was quite strong, with Siraj being represented at the Vakantiebeurs Utrecht Travel Fair, Holiday Travel Prague, ITB Berlin, ATM Dubai (Arabian Travel Market), Adventure Next - Adventure Travel Trade Association, a development tour in New York and Chicago, World Travel Market in London, and the Izmir Travel Fair. In November, Siraj was also pleased to host a familiarization trip for Australian experiential tour operators.
In December 2017, a half-day staff development retreat was organized, with all staff in attendance. Open discussions were held on present strengths, challenges and opportunities for the future, with staff being encouraged to discuss ideas.
Moving Forward into 2018
In 2017, Palestine was ranked as the fastest-growing tourism destination. While significant obstacles due to the political situation, military occupation, infrastructure and service sector shortcomings both remain and intensify, Siraj believes that the potential for growth in experiential tourism has not yet been realized. Siraj is considering ways of how to improve the program experience of existing excursions, as well as an examination of what opportunities exist for new and innovative programs. Most importantly, Siraj remains committed to maintaining a community-based perspective while serving the needs of pilgrims, tourists, adventurers and all those in solidarity with the people and land of Palestine who come from the world over to partake in the Siraj experience.