Israel’s Small Tourism Firms Left Behind by Delays in Letting in Visitors
Post-August 1 opening likely to wreck December holiday season for operators
While large travel companies get most of the organized group tours that Israel currently allows into the country, mom and pop tourist agencies are bearing the financial brunt of Israel’s repeated postponements in opening its doors to foreigners who wish to visit the country independently.
Israel, according to media reports, is likely to see the August 1 opening date for general tourism delayed to September. This will not only deal an immediate blow to travel companies’ finances as they prepare to issue refunds; it will hurt them during the December holiday season, the second busiest time of the year for foreign tourism behind late June.
“People in America are not going to come to Israel in August. … They’ve already planned their summer vacations. The summer is gone,” says Joe Yudin, founder and owner of Touring Israel Luxury Private Tours. “People right now are planning for October, November, December, January.
“Basically, we’re looking at December; that’s the earliest tourists are going to come back if they open up on August 1. If Israel doesn’t open up August 1, we’re going to lose Christmas break. … The whole industry is going to collapse,” he adds.
Israel’s Tourism Ministry said it would open the doors to foreign visitors on May 1, which was then delayed to June 1, July 1, and apparently now to August 1, because of concerns over the entry to the country of the novel coronavirus’ delta variant.
In May, certain groups of tourists started being granted entry, but those pilot programs were not open to small operators.
The delayed openings have already devastated many small tourist companies, for example, Holy Land Private Tours.
“It was already delayed so many times and until last month, we received government assistance but that’s over now. We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” owner and tour operator Ofir Horn told The Media Line. “If it does open, it will be for small numbers, like only big groups, and no one knows what the health protocols will be.
“It was supposed to come back next month, and it seems that it is not going to happen and I closed my business,” he adds.
Horn says he is no longer working in the tourist industry and is trying out different areas of business in an effort to make a living.
More and more people are leaving Israel’s tourism sector. Yudin says the government must do something to help what was once one of the most robust parts of the economy.
“The tourist industry is on its deathbed and it was the fourth-largest industry in Israel before the pandemic, after high tech, the medical sector and agriculture,” he says. “They need to do something fast to resuscitate it.”
It is not only small tourist company owners and operators who are closing up shop; people hired by these industries are leaving the sector. As of June 30, under the direction of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, extended unemployment benefits ceased for people under the age of 45, affecting a large share of the industry’s employees, and many people over 45 began receiving reduced benefits.