A Christian kneels in prayer outside the locked door of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City on Palm Sunday. The Holy Land tourism industry is expecting to have a bounce back year in 2022. CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Pilgrimage bounce back expected for 2022

  • January 22, 2022

Gal Hana is optimistic about how Israel’s tourism industry will perform in 2022.

Two years into a pandemic that has devastated the industry and seen thousands of Holy Land pilgrims have their dreams put on hold, Hana sees a better year ahead.

Good news emerged earlier this month to encourage the consul and director of tourism for the Israel Ministry of Tourism’s Canadian office. Israel’s health ministry announced that as of  Jan. 9, its travel ban “red list” of countries with high COVID-19 infection rates — notably Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and France — would be lifted. All vaccinated travellers are now authorized to enter Israel with a requirement upon landing to take a PCR test and quarantine for 24 hours or until they record a negative result.

Hana said 2022 is poised to be potent because of what she saw in the travellers who did go to the Holy Land in 2021. Restrictions on the ground were not a deal-breaker for many North Americans with a passion for going to the Holy Land, though numbers did pale in comparison to pre-COVID years.

“We saw 50 to 60 North American groups travelling to Israel each month despite all the restrictions and the complications that come with North American travel back then,” said Hana. “And when we’re starting in 2022, though Omicron remains worrisome, we see positive (signs).”

Agnes Zwierzynski is a pilgrimage leader for Connaissance Travel and Tours. She hopes for a great 2022 for her Toronto-based organization that  has not brought a tour to the Holy Land since she returned home with a group in mid-March 2020 when COVID-19 began causing its initial havoc around the globe.

She is optimistic even though she “has no crystal ball.”

“The government does not know, and the scientists do not know,” said Zwierzynski. “We are getting ready, and we are receiving requests from our clients. At Connaissance Travel, our client’s safety and well-being are always our priority. Every group we take on the road, we think of them as our family.” Nearly all the tour listings on the company’s website are branded with “re-scheduled dates to follow” messaging, except for two pilgrimages. Zwierzynski and her colleague Maria Trojanowski intend to lead a 15-day pilgrimage to Fatima, Lourdes, Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid — jointly emanating from Calgary and Toronto — beginning April 18. A 12-day expedition to Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland, starting in Toronto, follows on May 25, the highlight a pilgrimage to the once-in-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play.

Both Hana and Zwierzynski are excited by the prospect of offering experiences that could lift the spirits of people worn down by two pandemic-plagued years.

Zwierzynski is confident society will ultimately find a way to turn the page on COVID-19 and spark a desire and need for spiritual travel.

“There is a deep need for spiritual journeys and reconnecting. I hear about it all the time from my clients. It is what keeps us going here during these challenging times. It keeps us believing that what we are doing is needed.”

Hana’s hopes were raised by a distinctive group of tourists that experienced the wonder of the Holy Land last month.

“In December, Israel hosted the Miss Universe pageant. When they all travelled across the country, they were fascinated by the Holy Land sites, particularly the faith-related ones. We saw groups after two years of avoiding international travel get rejuvenated again by visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and walking along the Via Dolorosa.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.