Turning obstacles into opportunities. How the Pro Terra Sancta Network reacted to the coronavirus pandemic.

Giacomo Pizzi18 September 2020

2020 has been a complicated and uncertain year. The Covid-19 pandemic has deeply marked the lives of all, bringing more or less drastic changes in our habits and lifestyles. The global health crisis, with still no end in sight, has severely affected local and international mobility and consequently tourism. Tourism and related industries are in fact among the activities most affected by the virus crisis. The closure of borders and airports, the suspension of air traffic, the suspension of mobility even at the national level has had, and is continuing to have, a devastating impact, leading to an unprecedented economic loss. 

Like the rest of the world, the Holy Land is also suffering from the crisis. After the exponential growth of tourism in recent years, the virus has caused a drastic turnaround. Since March tourists cannot visit the country and now, with the resumption of the second wave, the situation remains unchanged.

Like all the organizations involved in sustainable tourism, the Association Pro Terra Sancta Network, which operates in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, has seen a halt to its travel-related activities. This disquieting situation has not stopped the organization from rethinking new activities. From this moment of stagnation two new opportunities for our guest-houses have arisen that we would like to talk about.

The new Dar Mamilla guest house in Jerusalem which opened to the public in the last months of 2019 and reached full bookings during the Christmas period and early 2020, is now empty and has no guests. An unexpected situation that the Association has transformed into something positive and creative. In the unused rooms of the guest house Pro Terra Sancta has started an Italian course for Palestinians. Twenty people of different ages, divided into two working groups, have attended a six-week course to learn the rudiments of the Italian language. Some came for work, some because they dream of being able to visit Italy, and still others because they are fascinated by the language: everyone is driven by their motivation and desire to make the most of this time.

The youths at the Mosaic Centre who manage the guest houses in the Sebastia area also didn’t lose heart. They have used this period of inactivity to improve the services for future visitors. In addition to maintenance and repainting, they also began restoration work on an abandoned house that is located near the colonnaded road and a nymphaeum dating from Roman times. The building, consisting of two rooms named respectively the “Cardo Room”, from the Cardo (Latin for “hinge”, cf. cardinal) road that traversed the city from north to south, and the “Nafura Room” (in Arabic “source, fountain”), has been rehabilitated and now finally the Mosaic Guest House of Sebastia is accessible to people with motor disabilities. 

The renovation works are part of the sustainable tourism project for the areas of Sebastia, Bethlehem and Jericho promoted by the Fondation Assistance Internationale (FAI). The aim is to make Sebastia known to everyone. The town, a few kilometres from Nablus, is often not included in the classic travel itineraries, or only the archaeological park is visited. However, for nature lovers and lovers of local history and traditions, Sebastia represents the perfect combination of all these elements. The Palestinian village preserves among its hills of olive trees the remains of numerous civilizations that have followed one another over the centuries, from the palaces of Omri, to the Greek monuments and those of the Romans, to the Byzantine and Crusader church, and to the Ottoman palaces. The beauty of Sebastia lies in its ancient history, but also in the authenticity of its encounters with the local population. An experience that no one should miss. While awaiting the return of visitors, Pro Terra Sancta, as a member of the Italian Association for Responsible Tourism (AITR), is investing in a tourism that is even more inclusive and open, a tourism without barriers that is within the reach of everyone.