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Image description: Majid Ishaq (fourth from the left) with a team of auditors visiting a Palestinian tourist establishment in Palestine.

There is no doubt of the severe socio-economic impact that COVID-19 has had on the Palestinian tourism industry. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), about 54% of workers in the West Bank were unable to work during the lockdown period from March 5th – May 25th, 2020. This directly impacted the 30,000 Palestinians working within the tourism industry which has seen hotels, touristic sites and establishments shut down before and beyond the lockdown period.

The Palestinian tourism industry however, is no stranger to hardships and has faced its fair share of obstacles in the last few decades due to a complicated political climate. The sector has shown countless times that it has incredible resilience and the ability to persevere.

One of the most significant factors attributing to the industry’s endurance is the hard work and accomplishments of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA). The Ministry has accomplished a great deal in the last few years in terms of developing the tourism sector such as getting the public and private sectors to work together in cooperation with national and international organizations, associations, and policymakers.

Most recently, as a part of a national recovery plan, the Ministry has been implementing several interventions in its efforts to cope with the recent pandemic and provide solutions to support the tourism industry. The Ministry formed the Palestinian Tourism Recovery Taskforce (PTRT) created to prepare the Palestine tourism sector for post-COVID-19 reopening. The PTRT developed and implemented new guidelines and protocols set according to international standards by creating the “COVID-19 Tourism Operation Manual for Palestine”, a COVID-19 prevention guidebook that outlines health and safety measures the tourism sector must uphold to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infections in order to reopen businesses. The effort was supported by the launch of Jahzeen.ps, a tourism-readiness e-learning portal based on the manual’s guidelines and aimed to educate the industry and prepare them for national implementation audits.

Beyond these measures, MoTA has organized a national team of auditors to monitor and ensure the implementation of the manual’s protocols. This is a major step towards restoring confidence in the Palestinian tourism industry in the eyes of international tour operators, governments, private sector, and ministries of foreign affairs; and thus, reopening and resuming operations.

“I believe that, with this strong operation, the Ministry of Tourism and private sector, with full confidence, will soon be ready to host and welcome international and local tourism; assuring a safe and secure environment for its workforce, local community and travelers as the sector shifts to a new normal,” said the head of the Auditing Team, Majed Ishaq, Director General of Marketing at Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The National Team of Auditors consists of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) and representatives from the Arab Hotel Association (AHA), Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association (HLITOA), the Palestine Association of Travel Agents (PSTTA), the Arab Guide Union (AGU) and Network of Palestine Experiential Tourism Associations (NEPTO).

The efforts carried out by the Ministry were supported by the Private Sector Development Programme (PSPD) of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, that commissioned the expertise of Hotel Resilient, an acclaimed German institute that is the world’s only scientific benchmarking and certification body for disaster risk management specifically focused on hotels and resorts.

Through the auditing process, hotel operators are first obliged to use an online auditing and e-learning platform, developed by Hotel Resilient, and complete the COVID-READY module. The module contains in-depth e-learning courses and webinars for capacity building and risk management for hotels; it also provides an easy to use self-audit that totals a score based on criteria relevant to a hotel’s readiness, prevention, and response strategy to COVID-19. The audit includes task management software that can point out relevant areas that need improvement.

Once a hotel operator completes the COVID-READY module and applies the necessary standards and protocols within their hotel and facilities, the national auditing team is then invited to the establishment to conduct a comprehensive onsite audit; thoroughly inspecting the hotel to ensure the implementation of COVID-19 specific standard operating procedures.

After the audit is complete and the hotel meets all the requirements of COVID-READY standards and pass with a score of 80% or more, they are then rewarded with official certification signifying that they are in line with international COVID-19 mandatory standards, prevention guidelines, operational procedures and protocols; that they have created a safe environment for visitors, tourists, and hotels employees; and that they can officially reopen and resume operations.

Palestine is the only country within the region to carry out a world-class standard of health and safety with these proactive measures of implementing the COVID-READY technology-based module, auditing, and certification. Once all the hotel members throughout Palestine go through the auditing process and become certified, it will put Palestine on the map as a safe travel destination that provides a high standard of health and hygiene practices within its hospitality sector.

Learn more about the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities most recent developments and initiatives here.

For more information please contact:

Majedishaq@travelpalestine.ps

+972 59 205 9412

www.jahzeen.ps

www.facebook.com/travelpalestine/

About Jahzeen.ps (Jahzeen): Jahzeen.ps is Palestine’s tourism-readiness and resilience e-learning platform developed to fuse COVID prevention standards and protocols into everyday tourism business in Palestine. Its mission is to help enhance tourism sector employee’s skill sets by providing Jahzeen.ps users with learning tools and certification regarding the new standards and protocols necessary to implement a resilient tourism sector recovery. The Jahzeen e-Learning curriculum provides its users with access to information that includes a general introduction to COVID-19 as well as the new standards and protocols necessary to implement a successful recovery.