Israel has remained opened to tourists since earlier this month and, with Christians starting to return to the land of the Bible, the forecast here has turned to cautious optimism.
“There are not droves of people – it’s not like you opened the faucet and people are pouring in,” Uri Steinberg told us. “There is still some hesitancy, but it is like we are opening the tap and we definitely feel the first drops.”
Where the tourism industry was plagued by closures and tough restrictions since March 2020, many feel the tide is turning and a sense of hope has been renewed. The borders reopened on Jan. 9 and since then a steady trickle of tourists have braved the requirements and have come to Israel.
Major Evangelical leaders are leading the way. Inspiration Cruises and Tours alone lists a line-up of major leaders including Max Lucado, David Jeremiah, Skip Heitzig, Lysa TerKeurst, Sebastian Gorka and Chuck Swindoll scheduled over the next year.
Israel-based Yaffa Tours has a trip planned for Bridges for Peace Canada and Randy Caldwell later this year. And Michal Gal-Oz, owner of the company, told ALL ISRAEL NEWS that she has a group of Christian Evangelicals in the country right now.
Keshet Journeys and Sar-El – tour operators that specialize in Christian travel to Israel – both welcomed groups right after the borders reopened as well.
“If things keep going in the same way – meaning no new restrictions and things keep moving at the pace they are moving right now – we are going to be moving in a positive direction in the weeks to come,” said Steinberg, who runs Uri Steinberg Consulting and is on the Advisory Board of ALL ISRAEL NEWS.
“The encouraging thing is people are coming – groups are really coming back,” he said. “As one would expect, people are still very hesitant. But some aspects are giving a new wave of positivity that have come into play, such as the declaration from the European Union that the forecast is that this is potentially the last big wave of COVID. So by March, this pandemic really could be over.”
Steinberg warned – getting into Israel is still not as easy as it used to be with requirements for testing, proof of vaccination and special permission required in advance. But now there is clarity regarding the rules.
He also said now is the time for the Ministry of Tourism to market Israel as a safe destination. Steinberg said Israel has managed the pandemic extremely well and the Holy Land is one of the most secure places a tourist could visit.
Israel has a website dedicated to helping tourists navigate their trip with a checklist of restrictions at Israel Safe. Here are some of the major requirements, but check Israel Safe for details:
Tourists must have proof of COVID vaccination, valid within 180 days of travel and from a selected list of vaccines (see list here)
People who have recovered from COVID in the last 180 days may also come to Israel with a digital certificate known as NAAT – though confusion persists over whether this applies to anyone outside of the European Union (more info here)
PCR tests are required before travel and upon arrival
Steinberg said even with the vaccine requirement, “there is a lot of demand in the pipeline despite the numbers not getting vaccinated.”
“I feel that by April the industry will be in a place where we really can assess if 2022 is a year we are bouncing back,” Steinberg said adding that hopefully 2024 will be a year of catching up with old records.
Israel had a banner tourism year in 2019.
“If there are no new variants, there is light at the end of tunnel,” he said.
Gal-Oz said though her group scheduled for this week was originally supposed to be 38 people, 10 brave souls braved the odds and uncertainty and did not cancel their trip.
“They just said they are coming and I did everything in a week to plan their trip,” she told us. “A lot of places are not working – they don’t have the staff or facilities. So until this group landed I couldn’t believe they were actually coming.”
She breathed easier when the group arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport.
With all the requirements, Gal-Oz said “its not going to be so quickly that they come back.”
“A lot of my people in Canada and the U.S. said they are waiting to see what happens,” she said.
But the bottom line is, hope is in the air – and tourists are on the ground.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS