Israel’s Tourism Sector Getting Ready for Opening Day

Israel’s Tourism Sector Getting Ready for Opening Day

Welcome mat ready for visitors, vaccinated or not, starting March 1

As Israel’s omicron-fueled fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic nears its end, the government has announced the lifting of travel bans. The tourism sector is eagerly preparing for the return of foreign visitors after two years of lockdowns and closed skies.

Beginning on March 1 vaccinated and unvaccinated foreigners will be allowed into the country, with the only requirement being two negative PCR tests, pre- and post-flight. It will be the first time unvaccinated visitors are allowed entry since March 2020.

Returning Israeli citizens need only be tested upon arrival and need not quarantine – even if they are unvaccinated – if their PCR tests are negative.

“We are seeing a steady decline in the morbidity data; therefore, this is the time to gradually open what we were the first in the world to close,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday after a meeting with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov.

“At the moment, the situation in Israel is good…. At the same time, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and in the event of a new variant, we will again act quickly,” Bennett added.

Kobby Barda, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Tourism, told The Media Line the ministry is launching a series of campaigns primarily targeting the five countries where most of Israel’s visitors come from: the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.

He added that there is already high demand from people who wish to visit Israel as soon as possible.

“We are hearing from our 20 offices around the world that there is a tremendous will to come to Israel, especially after the lifting of the travel bans. We are preparing for many people to come,” he said.

The ministry is optimistic, Barda said. “The sense is that the coming months are looking very good for Israeli tourism.

“In March-April there is Passover and Easter, in May-June, we have [Tel Aviv] Fashion Week and the [city’s] Gay Pride Parade for which we are launching a special campaign directed to the LGBTQ community, and then we have the summer,” he said.

Barda added that after the many challenges posed to the sector by the pandemic, the government has been taking measures to help it survive and be prepared to reopen.

“The government has supplied the main key players of the industry with substantial funds so that they will be able to keep their head over the water,” he said. “We have provided 150 million shekels [about $46 million] to be distributed to the hotel industry, 60 million shekels for tourist operators, and 25 million for tour guides.”

Barda also pointed out another problem the industry is facing, the lack of human capital in many tourism-related jobs.

Aviv Jasman, founder and CEO of the Israel Unlimited luxury travel agency, discussed that challenge.

“It’s hard to get employees because, during the pandemic, a lot of the good employees left the tourism industry for other fields. Now there are not too many experienced employees in tourism. So we are looking for people who are smart and we will shape them to work in tourism the way we think it should be,” Jasman The Media Line.

Barda sees another cause for the sector’s manpower shortage. “It was a very tough and demanding time; many people were laid off from their jobs in the industry, and some won’t come back because they found something else, or they just don’t want to.”

He cited a phenomenon that no one fully understands so far, known internationally as the “Big Quit” or “Great Resignation.”

“After the coronavirus, many people decided that they don’t want to return to work in jobs that they did before. It’s a phenomenon that mainly affects the “younger generation positions,” meaning waitresses and bartenders, restaurants, and hotel workers, so it’s a challenge,” he added.

The Israeli government is looking at different ways to address the problem, he said.

In Eilat, for instance, “We came to an agreement with Jordan that every day 1,500 [Jordanians] are going to cross the border to work in Israel, and then at night, they go back to Jordan. We also started making agreements with the Palestinian Authority to let Palestinians work in the hotel business,” Barda said.

Jasman said that despite the challenges, his company never stopped working, which helped to keep its remaining staff ready for the revival of incoming tourism.

He said that when the country closed to foreigners, Israelis showed increased interest in exploring new activities in the country, so his company managed to keep revenue coming in and the staff working.

Barda said that the ministry has been researching trends around the world to understand the “post-pandemic traveler” and new phenomenon resulting from the COVID pandemic.

For instance, people are starting to take “three-generation vacations,” meaning, for example, the grandfather, father, and son traveling together. “People started to appreciate life and now we get to see a lot of three generations traveling together.”

Also, people are tending to be more interested in visiting rural areas, which are less crowded and so considered COVID friendly. “The tendency is to leave very crowded clubs and go to nature,” Barda said.

He added that people are not organizing their trips as far in advance as they used to. “We are seeing people planning trips three or even two weeks ahead of time,” Barda said.

Israeli tourism industry players are doing their best to create a COVID-safe experience for their clients.

Jasman explained what that means for his travel agency. “All of our guides and drivers are triple vaccinated, and once a week, we ask them to take antigen tests. We provide a PCR testing service for the clients who want to take an extra one because they don’t trust the testing at the airport or for any other reason. We inform our guests of the regulations, we have a very flexible cancellation policy, and we try to provide many tours that are not in crowded places,” he said.

“We want people to come to Israel; it is open for business. We are waiting for you with open arms, and we have been waiting too long,” Barda said.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 1:50 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

CountryConfirmed CasesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories572,8545,179540,08127,594
Saudi Arabia742,5418,991718,97914,571
United Arab Emirates877,4062,299827,06748,040


Steven Ganot contributed to this report.

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