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The Media Line: Israel Prepares to Reopen Skies in New Global Tourism Push

Israel Prepares to Reopen Skies in New Global Tourism Push

Tourism Ministry lays out plans to welcome vaccinated groups of travelers as of May 23 in effort targeting Emiratis, Brits and Americans.

By Maya Margit/The Media Line

Thanks to a widely successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign, Israel is preparing to reopen its skies to tourists at the end of May.

Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen made the announcement on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, where she outlined the ministry’s plans to help revive the country’s battered tourism sector.

“Israel today is a world leader in safety and health, and we will make sure every potential tourist knows this when planning their summer or winter vacation,” she said. “We cannot miss this opportunity and, as minister of tourism, I won’t.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, inbound tourism to Israel dropped by 81% during 2020, representing a loss of $8 billion, the Tourism Ministry revealed. The drop followed a record-breaking pre-pandemic year in the industry; in 2019, 4.5 million people visited the country.

In a bid turn those numbers around and help boost the economy, the ministry has taken a multi-pronged approach.

As of May 23, a limited number of foreign tour groups will be permitted to enter the country. Starting in June, an unlimited number of such groups will be allowed in and – if virus cases hold steady – individual travelers will be able to book flights in July.

All visitors will be required to be fully vaccinated and to present vaccine certificates, as well as undergo PCR and serological testing at the airport.

To get the ball rolling, the government will launch a publicity campaign aimed at encouraging travelers to book flights to Israel. The ads will air in three major cities that boast high vaccination rates: Dubai, New York and London. The advertisement in New York will display in the city’s iconic Times Square; while the one in London will be broadcast in Piccadilly Circus.

“Dubai has great tourism potential for Israel,” Farkash-Hacohen said, adding that “the UK and US have always been large markets for inbound tourism. I have no doubt we will see many tourists from all three countries within a short period of time.”

In addition to these publicity efforts, the government is planning to create and promote several large-scale international events in order to draw specific groups of tourists. For example, the ministry intends to highlight the upcoming Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, which is usually a major draw for travelers from around the globe. The majority of Pride events in other countries are unlikely to physically take place this year.

Farkash-Hacohen also announced that the Israeli government would offer incentives to foreign airlines operating flights to the Ramon Airport in the southern city of Eilat, which has been especially hard hit by the lack of visitors.

“We understand that postponing and waiting for everything to be over is something that we cannot [do],” Nira Fisher, director of international relations at the Tourism Ministry, told The Media Line. “We need the international tourists to come to Israel to strengthen the economy.”

There are some significant caveats to these plans, however.

For one, children will still be barred from entering the country since they have not yet been approved to receive vaccines. Second, those wishing to visit Israel will only be able to do so by booking their trip through a travel agent.

This means that many individual travelers will have to wait for a further reprieve in the existing restrictions.

Validating tourists’ vaccine certificates is yet another hurdle facing the Israeli authorities, as no standardized documentation currently exists. At the moment, the ministry is hoping that PCR and serological testing will suffice to avert the fallout from potential forgeries.

“Right now, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is having those discussions with the European Union, other countries and the US to check the documentation that will be authorized here in Israel, and vice versa,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, we’ll have answers by May 23.”

Obstacles notwithstanding, the Tourism Ministry remains hopeful that the pilot program will help jump-start the tourism sector and give it some much needed breathing room, after what has been an incredibly complicated period for travel worldwide.

 

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