Israel's Tour Guides Disappointed & Frustrated as Country Keeps Its Doors Shut for Foreign Visitors

© AP Photo / Oded BaliltyPeople play footvolley at the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, July 5, 2020
People play footvolley at the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, July 5, 2020 - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.12.2021
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The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the Jewish state's tourism industry that registered an 81 percent drop in the amount of tourists. Many employees of the sector have lost their jobs and some are saying their pleas for help are largely falling on deaf ears in the current government.
On Sunday, Israel declared that it would put the UK and Denmark on the list of its "red zone countries", meaning that Israelis will not be able to go there due to the raging coronavirus pandemic. Foreigners from those states won't be allowed entry in order to prevent the spread of Omicron, COVID-19's new variant, believed to be significantly more contagious than the original virus.
The Israeli Health Ministry says it will continue updating the list of states that are considered dangerous for travelling. It also states that the country will continue to be shut for foreign visitors and tourists.

Mounting Frustration

Meanwhile, the dissatisfaction with the government policies keeps mounting. On Monday, tour guides are expected to gather outside of Israel’s David Ben Gurion International Airport to vent anger at the decision makers and force them to open up the country.
Asaf Solomon, a 36-year-old tour guide from Jerusalem, says he understands the frustration of his colleagues.
© AFP 2022 / JACK GUEZSwab samples for COVID-24 coronavirus disease testing are taken by medics from travellers upon arrival at the rapid testing centre in Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2021.
Swab samples for COVID-24 coronavirus disease testing are taken by medics from travellers upon arrival at the rapid testing centre in Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2021.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.12.2021
Swab samples for COVID-24 coronavirus disease testing are taken by medics from travellers upon arrival at the rapid testing centre in Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2021.
Up until the outbreak of COVID-19 in Israel in February 2020, Solomon's schedule was packed with tours that he organised for foreign groups, individuals, and delegations.
Back then, the business was going so smoothly that he was planning to buy a van and offer his clients a whole new level of experience.

"Then came COVID-19 and everything crashed within weeks", recalls the tour guide.

The previous Israeli government that was headed by then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first to react to the situation, closing down Israel for incoming and outgoing flights. Tourists were not allowed in, something that crushed Israel's tourism industry.
While in 2019, Israel registered 4.5 million visitors, the year of the coronavirus saw a stark decline of 81 percent in the number of foreign tourists, with only 850,000 visiting the Jewish state.
Thousands of workers who were engaged in the sector lost their jobs, and many others were forced to take unpaid leave.
The government was trying to keep the tourism industry afloat. Those, who lost their jobs were paid compensation, whereas businesses were encouraged to re-hire employees in exchange for financial benefits.

Pleas for Help Unanswered

That boost, however, did not last long. In mid-June, the Netanyahu coalition was replaced by the government of Naftali Bennett, whose ministers ended the unemployment compensation policy.
© AP Photo / Sebastian ScheinerIn this Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 file photo, the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known by the Jews as the Temple Mount, is seen in Jerusalem's Old City. 2014 was supposed to be a record-breaking year for tourist visits to Israel. But all that changed when this summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Hamas prompted jittery travelers to cancel trips en masse. Merchants in Jerusalem’s Old City say the feel the sting. The area’s cobblestone streets are typically chock full of tourists visiting the holy sites within the storied walls. But they've been eerily empty over the summer.
In this Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 file photo, the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known by the Jews as the Temple Mount, is seen in Jerusalem's Old City. 2014 was supposed to be a record-breaking year for tourist visits to Israel. But all that changed when this summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Hamas prompted jittery travelers to cancel trips en masse. Merchants in Jerusalem’s Old City say the feel the sting. The area’s cobblestone streets are typically chock full of tourists visiting the holy sites within the storied walls. But they've been eerily empty over the summer. - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.12.2021
In this Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 file photo, the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known by the Jews as the Temple Mount, is seen in Jerusalem's Old City. 2014 was supposed to be a record-breaking year for tourist visits to Israel. But all that changed when this summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Hamas prompted jittery travelers to cancel trips en masse. Merchants in Jerusalem’s Old City say the feel the sting. The area’s cobblestone streets are typically chock full of tourists visiting the holy sites within the storied walls. But they've been eerily empty over the summer.
The idea behind the move was simple: the government wanted to encourage people to work instead of relying on the state's cash, but in the absence of incoming tourism, the move was a serious blow to members of the sector.

"We have been hearing a lot of promises from this government but zero actions. Minister of Finance Avigdor Lieberman says he is not a Santa Clause and advises us to change our occupation. Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov is clueless about the sector. And the result is that the tour guides, especially the older generation, are crumbling".

From the very start of the pandemic, tour guides and other representatives of the sector have been holding multiple demonstrations to attract the government's attention to their problem. But those rallies haven't yielded much-needed results, primarily because they haven't been "too loud, nor aggressive", says Solomon.
As a result, many tour guides have given up and started pursuing other job opportunities. Solomon is also considering taking that path.

"Like many others, I am also thinking of sending my CV to high-tech companies because I need to pay my bills. If tour guides continue to do so, Israel will lose this sector, and it is a shame as the tourism industry has been one of the prime ones in the country", explains Solomon.

© AP Photo / Oded BaliltyPeople enjoy the beach front in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, May 16, 2020
People enjoy the beach front in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, May 16, 2020 - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.12.2021
People enjoy the beach front in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, May 16, 2020

"I am sure that if politicians wanted to solve this crisis, they would have thought of solutions. They would have consulted us instead of adopting measures that don't make any sense. For now, though, we are frustrated and disappointed, but we are optimistic, and we are not losing hope".

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