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Israel welcomes tourists under new plan to usher in individuals and groups

Plan is almost strictly for vaccinated tourists who are within 180 days of their last shot

Passengers at Ben-Gurion International Airport on October 31, 2021. (Phot: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Today, Israel’s skies are open to tourists once again and the Ministry of Tourism is welcoming both vaccinated groups and individuals alike for the first time since March 2020.

“The Israel Ministry of Tourism is pleased to welcome the long-awaited return of vaccinated individual tourists from Nov. 1, 2021. Throughout the global corona pandemic, interest in visiting Israel has remained high and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism has worked hard to find creative solutions to facilitate the safe return of tourists,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Tourism Ministry noted that a successful pilot program, which began in May, allowed “several thousand tourists” to enter Israel mainly from the United States and Europe in organized, pre-approved groups.

But now all “tourists from around the world can make their reservations and enjoy the unique, varied and safe tourism products that Israel has to offer,” the Ministry said.

Many restrictions apply, however. For instance, tourists from “red” countries are still barred from coming, as is anyone who has visited a red country in the past two weeks – although there are no countries currently on the red list.

Also, only specific vaccines approved by the Centers for Disease Control are accepted plus Sputnik, the Russian-made vaccine. Tourists must be 180 days from their most recent dose, which could pose a problem for those who haven’t received a booster.

Yossi Fattal, head of the Incoming Tour Operators Association told Kan radio this morning he’s thrilled that tourism is allowed to start up again after 20 months of devastation for the industry, but the rules are still complicated. Most other countries, he noted, require a negative PCR test before arrival whereas Israel requires one before, one after landing, a serological test in some cases, quarantining until the test results come back and proof of vaccination which is not yet required in many other countries abroad.

As we have reported, under the current guidelines some non-vaccinated tourists can enter Israel with a group if they had COVID in the past six months and can show proof of recovery.

“Thank God we are able to welcome Christians back to Israel,” said Elisa Moed, CEO of Travelujah Holy Land Tours, who is already booking packages for Christmas.

But Moed, like Fattal, warns the comeback is going to take a while. In 2019, Israel set a new record for incoming tourism and was on track to beat that in 2020 before the pandemic swept through the globe. Moed said it could take up to two years of regular tourism for Israel to get its hosting infrastructure back to pre-pandemic levels. Some restaurants and hotels were forced to close permanently. Others sent their staff on unemployment and cannot afford to take them back yet.

Also, most tours to Israel are booked months if not years in advance, meaning the scope of tourism potential will not be felt for at least 12 months – and that is if the rules remain as they are or ease up.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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