Published on : Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Israel’s new tourism minister, YoelRazvozov, who took office on Monday, has inherited the country’s only business sector that has not returned to normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as tour guides are still whiling away their days at home.
Surprisingly, even though Israel has one of the highest rates of vaccination against the coronavirus in the world – and one of the lowest rates of infection – most vaccinated foreign tourists are still not yet allowed to enter the country. For those that can, Israel is the only country that requires foreign tourists to undergo blood testing to prove that they have been vaccinated.
The owners of many hotels in Israeli cities that depend upon foreign tourism – such as Tel Aviv, Nazareth and Jerusalem – are still shuttered because they have seen no reason to reopen for Israeli clientele alone, and airlines serving the country have been forced to make do almost entirely with Israeli passengers.
During the term in office of Razvozov’s predecessor, Orit Farkash-Hacohen, the tourism sector was mainly managed by the Health Ministry. Razvozov, by contrast, will have to take matters into his own hands, as he seeks to open Israel’s borders to vaccinated foreign tourists, without requiring that they undergo antibody blood tests.
A pilot programme was launched over the past few weeks, with the arrival of 20 organised groups of foreign tourists. That programme is now being expanded to permit the arrival of another 1,000 tourists, also in organised groups, by the end of the month. But that’s just a fraction of the millions who normally visit the country; in 2019, the year before the pandemic began, Israel welcomed 4.55 million foreign tourists.
The 1,000 visitors slated to arrive by the end of June will be required to undergo serological antibody testing – at their own expense – at hotels in Israel where they will be quarantined pending test results.
Over the past few months, since the Israeli economy began to reopen following a succession of coronavirus-related lockdowns, there has been a sense that the Health Ministry has insisted on keeping out even vaccinated foreign tourists – while vaccinated Israelis can leave and enter the country almost without restriction – to reduce the risk that carriers of new variants would enter the country. American tour wholesalers with whom Haaretz has spoken said they cannot foresee convincing clients to undergo blood testing rather than just deferring Israel as a vacation destination.