Israel’s Tightened Travel Restrictions Spell Disaster for Tourism Industry
Visitors from the US, France, Germany, Italy and Greece among those who must now self-isolate upon arrival
Any illusions still harbored by tourists and business owners alike that travel to Israel will return to normal anytime soon were dispelled by the Health Ministry’s announcement this week that as of August 11, everyone arriving from an additional 18 countries will be required to enter full isolation, regardless of their age and whether they have been vaccinated against or recovered from the novel coronavirus.
The countries to be added to the “Severe Travel Warning” list are Botswana, Bulgaria, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Malawi, the Netherlands, Tanzania, Rwanda, Tunisia, Ukraine and the United States.
The last item on this list is the one that most concerns business owners in the tourism and hospitality sector. This is because a large proportion of the groups that have been entering the country as part of a pilot program, or through the Birthright program, hail from the US.
Already on the “Severe Travel Warning” list are Cambodia, Colombia, Fiji, Guatemala, Honduras, Mongolia, Myanmar, Namibia, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.
And Israel has banned its citizens from traveling to 14 countries − Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Cyprus, Georgia, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Turkey, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan − unless they obtain permission from an exception committee.
A spokesperson from the Rent a Guide tour operator, told The Media Line, “Right now, the United States was one of the major countries that [sent people] to Israel as tourists, [and it] has now been put under an ‘orange’ label, which means that they’ll need to be self-isolating for at least seven days.”
Even before the latest government announcement, individual incoming tourism was not allowed, but some groups were being given special permission to enter the country via the pilot program or through educational trips.
Around 1,500 tourists visited Israel in July through the Tourism Ministry’s pilot project.
“Most of the groups originated in the US, with others coming from Europe, the UK and South America,” the ministry told The Media Line.
The Rent a Guide spokesperson said, “Groups like Taglit-Birthright were allowed in, but I’m imagining that will probably stop now, because if people from the States, where the majority of the Birthright groups come from, need to have at least seven days self-isolation, I’m imagining that they will not come to stay seven days in self-isolation before they start to travel [around Israel].”
Twenty-two tourist groups from the US have been approved for travel in August, a spokesperson from the Tourism Ministry told The Media Line, adding, however, that “it is natural that, as a result of the new restrictions, there will be a reduction in the number of group tourist arrivals. It is difficult at this early stage to assess the extent of the damage, as the situation can change at any time.”
Oren, a manager at the Rothschild and Diaghilev hotels in Tel Aviv, told The Media Line that both are worryingly empty.
“I can tell you that basically, right now, most of the tourists in our hotels are Israeli; there is not a lot of foreign tourism,” he said.
When asked about the prospects for Israel’s hotel industry later this year, Oren responded by saying, “I think we’re going to have a fourth lockdown in the next couple of months.”
The government announcement comes as the more infectious delta variant of COVID-19 continues to sweep across the country, with new infections now averaging more than 3,000 per day.
With new cases reaching 32% of the January 16 peak and rising, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Tuesday that it will consider implementing severe restrictive measures.
“Avoid gatherings, and go get vaccinated − now. Otherwise, there will be no alternative to imposing sharper restrictions, including lockdowns,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, reinforced the prime minister’s message, saying, “We need to prepare the public and public opinion for a lockdown in September, which is a month in which the economic damage will be less [because of the Jewish High Holidays], and accelerate the immunization effort to try to prevent it.”
Aron Rosenthal is a student at the University of Edinburgh and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.