New Omicron travel restrictions are threatening the tourism industry

Published on : Thursday, December 2, 2021

Tourism businesses that were just finding their footing after nearly two years of devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are being rattled again as countries throw up new barriers to travel in an effort to contain the Omicron variant.

From shopping districts in Japan and tour guides in the Holy Land to ski resorts in the Alps and airlines the world over, a familiar dread is rising about the renewed restrictions.

Meanwhile, travellers eager to get out there have been thrown back into the old routine of reading up on new requirements and postponing trips.


Governments that were slow to react to the first wave of COVID-19 are eager to avoid past mistakes. The World Health Organization says, however, that travel bans are of limited value and will “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
Other experts say travel restrictions won’t keep variants out but might give countries more time to get people vaccinated.

Israel’s decision to close the country to foreign visitors is hitting the nation’s tourism industry as it geared up for the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays. The country only opened to tourists in November, after barring most foreign visitors since early last year.

Just over 30,000 tourists entered Israel in the first half of November, compared to 421,000 in November 2019, according to government figures.

Joel Haber, a Jerusalem-based guide, said during a typical Hanukkah holiday his calendar would be chock full of food tours through Jerusalem’s colorful Mahane Yehuda market. Instead, he has just one tour a day.

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as Jesus’ birthplace, local businesses expected a boost from Christmas tourism.
The Bethlehem Hotel, one of the largest in the city, has operated at a fraction of capacity for the past 18 months.

The pandemic already caused foreign tourism in Japan to shrink from 32 million visitors in 2019 to 4 million last year, a trend that has continued through this year.

As worries surfaced about Omicron, Japan on Wednesday tightened its ban on foreign travelers, asking airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pushed for avoiding “the worst-case scenario” and reversed a relaxation of travel restrictions that had been in effect just three weeks.

The crowds of Chinese shoppers who used to arrive in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district in a stream of buses to snap up luxury items have long disappeared. Restaurants and bars have been forced to restrict hours.

Boat charter operator Tokyo Water Taxi started on the city’s waterfront in 2015, when hopes were high for cashing in on the booming tourism trade. With the variant pushing the return of foreign visitors far into the future, the company is trying to look on the bright side.

In South Africa, Frederic Plachesi, owner of Tamboti lodge in Dinokeng Game Reserve, is facing a similar fall-off in the international guests his business relies on.

In Europe, Alpine ski resorts worry about how to keep up with requirements such as ensuring all skiers are vaccinated or recovered from infection and have tested negative for the virus.

Travel executives argue that government decisions about restrictions should wait until more is known about Omicron, but they admit it’s a difficult call.


From shopping districts in Japan and tour guides in the Holy Land to ski resorts in the Alps and airlines the world over, a familiar dread is rising about the renewed restrictions.
Meanwhile, travelers eager to get out there have been thrown back into the old routine of reading up on new requirements and postponing trips.

Abby Moore, a librarian and associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, was scheduled to leave for Prague on Wednesday.
But the day before her flight, she started having doubts when she saw that Prague had closed its Christmas markets and imposed a citywide curfew.

Less than a month after significantly easing restrictions for inbound international travel, the U.S. government has banned most foreign nationals who have recently been in any of eight southern African countries.

A similar boomerang was seen in Japan and Israel, both of which tightened restrictions shortly after relaxing them.

While it is not clear where the variant emerged, South African scientists identified it last week, and many places have restricted travel from the wider region, including the European Union and Canada.
For all the alarm, little is known about Omicron, including whether it is more contagious, causes more serious illness or can evade vaccines.

Still, governments that were slow to react to the first wave of COVID-19 are eager to avoid past mistakes. The World Health Organization says, however, that travel bans are of limited value and will place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.
Other experts say travel restrictions won’t keep variants out but might give countries more time to get people vaccinated.

London-based airline EasyJet said Tuesday that renewed travel restrictions already appear to be hurting winter bookings, although CEO Johan Lundgren said the damage is not yet as severe as during previous waves.

The CEO of SAS Scandinavian Airlines said winter demand was looking up, but now they need to figure out what the new variants may mean.

Israel’s decision to close the country to foreign visitors is hitting the nation’s tourism industry as it geared up for the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays. The country only opened to tourists in November, after barring most foreign visitors since early last year.

Just over 30,000 tourists entered Israel in the first half of November, compared to 421,000 in November 2019, according to government figures.


The pandemic already caused foreign tourism in Japan to shrink from 32 million visitors in 2019 to 4 million last year, a trend that has continued through this year.

Boat charter operator Tokyo Water Taxi started on the city’s waterfront in 2015, when hopes were high for cashing in on the booming tourism trade.
With the variant pushing the return of foreign visitors far into the future, the company is trying to look on the bright side.

In Europe, Alpine ski resorts worry about how to keep up with requirements such as ensuring all skiers are vaccinated or recovered from infection and have tested negative for the virus.

Travel executives argue that government decisions about restrictions should wait until more is known about Omicron, but they admit it’s a difficult call.







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