Last Sunday, Santa Claus took a trip to the Dead Sea, decked in his full suit and carrying a decorated Christmas tree. While it’s not Christmas time just yet, this isn’t that strange for the Jewish state, which typically sees over a million Christian tourists annually. Since COVID-19 has halted the majority of international travel and tourism has stopped with it, the Israel Ministry of Tourism is spotlighting Santa Claus to bring holiday cheer to those who can’t be near.
As part of a campaign, Issa Kassisieh AKA Santa, paddle boarded to a prime photo destination, resting on the salt mounds in the center of the Dead Sea, about 500 meters from the shore. The Dead Sea is one of the most visited Christian sites, along with Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and the Jordan River.
Last year, of the 4.2 million tourists who visited Israel, about 25% of them were Christian pilgrims, 85% of whom toured in organized groups. This sector or tourism leads to about $1.5 billion for the state, and for the many small business owners who are dependent on tourists. While there won’t be any international pilgrimage this year, Israel’s religious tourism sector is taking the opportunity to review and improve the necessary infrastructures to create better standards for impending tourist resurrection.