Israel Opens Up to Foreign Visitors, But Will it be Enough to Revive Tourism From COVID-19?

© AP Photo / Sebastian ScheinerFrench tourists look at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021
French tourists look at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.03.2022
In 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic, 4.6 million foreign tourists visited the country, a ten percent spike compared to the previous year. The eruption of the coronavirus has brought that growth to a standstill.
After two years of endless restrictions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, Israel is gradually opening up to the world.
Starting Tuesday, both vaccinated and non-vaccinated tourists will be allowed in, pending PCR tests that they would need to take before and after arrival in Israel.
Israelis willing to travel abroad will no longer need to take a PCR test. They will need to prove their well-being only upon their return to the country.
Relief is also expected within Israel. The nation has already cancelled the so-called green pass, a permit issued by the Ministry of Health that was required to be presented upon entering public institutions, bars, restaurants and public gatherings.
In the upcoming weeks, the government will be mulling over the possibility of cancelling this requirement in mass gatherings. The obligation to wear facial masks in close areas might be cancelled as well.

Low Numbers

The easing of restrictions comes amid a dive in the number of daily coronavirus patients.
Sunday registered fewer than 6,000 new cases, a relatively small amount compared to what was seen at the peak of the fifth wave in January.
But experts have been warning that Israel should not be complacent and that the emergence of yet another variant was still possible.

Economic Pressure

However, the removal of the various COVID-19 restrictions was not only dictated by the decline in numbers. Another motive behind the move was the mounting economic pressure applied on the government and the demand that the public look for solutions.
Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, Israel was one of the hottest tourist destinations. In 2019, for example, more than 4.5 million foreigners visited the country, a ten percent spike from the previous year.
The eruption of COVID-19 in February 2020 brought this industry to a standstill. In March the airport was closed, visits of foreigners have dwindled and many local businesses that relied on tourists have gone bankrupt. Israeli tour guides have lost their bread and butter, focusing their attention on domestic visitors who didn't bring in that much of an income.
During the government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the government has been giving out money to small and medium business owners to keep them afloat. The current coalition -- led by PM Naftali Bennett -- took a different approach, limiting the assistance to the private sector.
Last December, Israel's Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman advised Israeli tour guides "to change profession" indicating that that industry was dead and that the government had no intention to salvage it from the mess.
Later on, he backtracked from his comments, but the damage has already been done. In recent months, representatives of the tourism industry have been protesting the inactive stance of the government. Many have taken to the streets to demand assistance, a move that finally bore fruit.
In late December, the government approved a package that included special assistance for tour guides, amounting to $7.7 million. $18.5 million has been allocated to inbound tourism organisers, and an additional $46 million to hotels.
Previously, tour guides were complaining that that assistance wasn't enough to recover what had been destroyed by the pandemic. But now with the opening of the gates to foreign tourists, it looks like for the first time in two years, Israel's tourism has a glimpse of hope.
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