Israel expects influx of vaccinated travelers, but tour guides are skeptical

With the guidelines allowing international tourists to be vaccinated in full effect, Israeli officials have said they expect an influx of travelers from around the world, but those in the country’s tourism sector say the industry will not revive as easily.

The Tourism Ministry said earlier this week that with the reopening of Israel’s skies on November 1 to vaccinated travelers, as many as 100,000 people are expected to arrive in the first few weeks.

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A healthcare worker takes a swab sample from a traveler for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at Ben Gurion International Airport

A healthcare worker takes a swab sample from a traveler for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at Ben Gurion International Airport

(Photo: Reuters)

However, tour guides say it will take time for tourism to increase as there are still strict limitations on who can enter the country. Additionally, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz gave the policy the green light on October 21, but only received official government approval the following week.

“Let’s see how many travelers will actually come. My network of tourists waiting to come is hesitant and fears that the procedures will be uncomfortable, “said Aryel Tsion, a licensed tour guide who specializes in biblical tours of the West Bank. “Most people don’t plan a short-term trip to Israel, they book at least a few months in advance.” The consensus of the tour guides is that mid-December or late this year is when Israel will see more foreigners landing at Ben Gurion Airport.

At least one tour guide predicts an even later date for business to pick up again. “I hope the situation improves, but I do not think I will return to my guiding career until spring. I would love to be proven wrong, I miss guiding and showing people this incredible country,” said tour guide Hannah Rosenberg.

The Jewish state had planned to allow vaccinated individual visitors this summer and add a pilot program later, allowing groups to enter, but authorities delayed reopening the borders due to an increase in coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant. highly contagious.

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Eilat Lagoon Eilat Lagoon

A lagoon in the southernmost city of Eilat

In recent weeks, the fourth wave of the coronavirus has subsided. According to data from the Ministry of Health, the number of daily cases dropped below a thousand and the rate of positive tests is below one percent. Meanwhile, nearly four million Israelis have received the booster shot of the vaccine.

Still, Israel is being cautious about allowing vaccinated individual visitors to enter the country – too cautious according to some in the tourism industry. Under the new rules, individual visitors must be fully vaccinated within the previous six months, recover from COVID within the same time frame, or recover from illness by May 1 followed by at least one dose of vaccine.

To enter Israel, a certificate of digital recovery is required. Currently, the US does not have a digital recovery certificate program, and a total of 44 countries are participating in the European Union’s COVID digital certificate program and will be eligible to enter.

Anyone who has received vaccines approved by the World Health Organization is eligible to enter the country. Vaccines include Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Covishield, Sinovak, and Sinopharm. Israel will also recognize Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine from November 15, given that visitors will perform a serological test, while the other vaccines currently require PCR testing upon arrival.

Travelers can only enter the country through Ben Gurion Airport and not through other border crossings such as Jordan and Egypt. “The orderly procedure will encourage the arrival of tourists, we are very grateful and happy, and we look forward to seeing tourists,” said the general director of the Israel Hotel Association, Oded Grofman.

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Tel AvivTel Aviv

In front of the Tel Aviv beach

(Photo: Shutterstock)

However, Grofman noted that Israel’s entry requirements are much stricter compared to other countries and that many families will not be able to visit the Jewish state because their children have no way to get vaccinated under current regulations.

Grofman’s interview took place on Friday shortly before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, following a recommendation from an expert panel that advised the US regulatory agency.

All travelers must take a PCR test 72 hours or less before boarding their flight and upon arrival at the airport. “We hope that this decision after one or two months will be less strict. We believe that you can still maintain a high level of security without so many restrictions,” Grofman said.

According to Grofman, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were particularly affected by the border closure, as around 80 percent of tourists visiting the two Israeli cities come from abroad, and so far, 20 hotels remain closed in both places.

Tourism in Israel fell 80 percent last year after hitting a record 4.55 million visitors in 2019 who contributed $ 7.2 billion to the economy. “I have been very disappointed that the government did not act in line with other Western countries to prioritize tourism and find safe ways for tourism to occur in a timely manner,” said the founder and owner of Israel-based Pomegranate Travel. , Hannah Blustin.

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Aircraft on the ground at NatbaghAircraft on the ground at Natbagh

Israeli planes at Ben Gurion airport

(Photo: Itay Blumenthal)

Blustin said the tourism industry needs more certainty that the new entry policy will be sustainable in the long term and will move toward being less restrictive rather than more. He said the government caused financial damage to tour companies in the summer when it reversed the decision to open the border to individual visitors.

Still, Blustin said they have been “absolutely inundated with inquiries” since the announcement. “This is the first good news we have had since March 2020 and I hope it shows a new direction the government is taking and a new appreciation of the economy and the broader importance of tourism in Israel.”

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