The long-awaited news for foreigners yearning to visit Israel finally came in today: On May 23, the gates will open once again to foreigners.
But don’t rush to buy tickets just yet.
Israel is dipping its toes back into the world of tourism with a tepid and methodical reentry to a long-lost sector that has not been able to serve one foreign tourist since March 2020.
Here are the requirements:
First of all, you must be vaccinated.
Second, only pre-approved groups may come.
Third, all visitors will be required to have a PCR coronavirus test before boarding their flight to Israel, negative for COVID, of course.
Fourth, upon arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport they will be required to do another PCR test as well as a serological test – a blood test to detect antibodies – to prove their vaccination.
It remains unclear how these tests will be performed at the airport, how long tourists will be forced to wait for results and who will cover the costs.
And in the meantime, Israel is in discussions with other countries to “reach agreements for vaccine-certificate validation, so as to cancel the need for the serological test.”
“According to the outline, a limited number of groups will start to arrive on 23 May,” the ministries of tourism and health said in a joint statement. “The number will be increased based on the health situation and progress of the program. Individual travelers will be allowed into Israel in the second stage, with health considerations determining the timeline.”
One possible reason for restricting entry to vaccinated-only is that the same policies apply to Israelis. Israelis who are not vaccinated cannot go to hotels, museums and restaurants.
Uri Steinberg, former Israel Tourism Commissioner for North America and now a consultant working with the Christian community, was optimistic but cautious.
“There are hundreds of groups in North America that are ready to finally go to Israel, and it seems that if all goes well, this fall we’ll be hearing more English on the streets of Israel,” said Steinberg who also serves on the ALL ISRAEL NEWS advisory board.
“We still need to wait and see what will be the official outline, so that the travel industry will know exactly how to operate,” Steinberg said.
Nevertheless, he believes 2021 will give Israel the opportunity to create a perception of Israel as a safe travel destination.
This isn’t just good news for some foreigners who want to come. Thousands of Israelis who work in the tourism sector have been waiting for this moment as well, Steinberg said.
“There are families here in Israel that made their living up until 15 months ago from incoming tourism. There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen insisted that the success of the Israeli economy will only come by opening the skies.
Only “international tourism will truly revive the tourism industry, including restaurants, hotels, sites, tour guides, buses and others looking to work and provide for their families,” she said.
“I will continue to work for the full opening of tourism to Israel, which will greatly assist the Israeli economy and create workplaces for many Israelis,” Farkash-Hacohen said
Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein hailed the decision coming from “the first vaccinated country.”
“The citizens of Israel are the first to enjoy this result. After opening the economy, it is time to allow tourism in a careful and calculated manner,” Edelstein said.
Some 90% of Israel's eligible population – 16 and up – has either taken the Pfizer vaccine or recovered from the coronavirus.
The tourism industry was battered due to draconian lockdowns during the COVID pandemic, closed to tourists entirely and for many months to Israelis as well.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.