Israel’s tourism industry continues to stare into the unknown and 150,000 workers whose livelihoods are dependent on incoming tourism are still waiting to find out if those tourists will be allowed into the country.
Hotels and travel companies have done their best to compensate for the ban on incoming tourists due to COVID-19 restriction by marketing to domestic tourists. But this solution is only partial and is not suitable for all tourism businesses.
Thanks to substantial government financial assistance the industry is clinging on for survival and anticipating the return of foreign tourists.
The latest setback to the industry was the deferment of the planned date for allowing individual tourists to visit Israel from the beginning of July to the beginning of August.
Once again the industry was left angry at a last-minute decision with no proper explanation of or any transparent information as to what the parameters will be for letting foreigners into Israel.
Why Israelis can and foreigners can’t
The main issue that is unclear is why Israelis are allowed to leave and enter the country whereas foreigners are not. From a public health point of view foreigners are not more dangerous than Israelis if they are fully vaccinated and subject to proper testing before entering the country.
Israel has to decide if it wants to be like New Zealand and Australia which have shut down the borders completely even for their own citizens, or to handle the pandemic like the rest of the world by creating clear guidelines for travel and incoming tourism.
Germany acknowledges Israel vaccination pass
Last week I traveled to Germany. I was let in without a PCR test, only showing my Israel vaccination pass.
On the way back because of Israeli regulations I took two PCR tests - the first, 48 hours before the flight and another after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. The second test was to check I was not infected on the plane.
This is definitely playing it carefully and from my perspective it also makes sense. Israel has successfully vaccinated a large portion of its population and the Israeli Health Ministry wants to protect what it has achieved.
Initial information unofficially provided by the Health Ministry suggests that the guidelines that they are working on for entering Israel will include two PCR tests (one before traveling and a second after landing), and an antigen blood test. These guidelines will apply only to vaccinated people.
This will be the strictest testing in the world. This is all good and well. The measures will protect Israel and its people and the government should set out in advance what requirements it will demand and when to apply them according to the level of morbidity in Israel.
No strategic planning possible
However with the current level of uncertainty, tourism businesses can not plan strategically for the coming months, and their inability to plan their cash flow will lead to bankruptcies and closures and make it much more complicated to maintain the travel infrastructure required for when foreign tourists eventually return to Israel.
Israel must take action now for a fast relaunch this year, otherwise it will stay behind whereas other destinations that suffered far more from the pandemic will see their tourist industries return much faster while Israel lags behind.
Here are a few suggestions to help relaunch incoming tourism to Israel:
Clear guidelines for entry of groups and individual travelers (FITs) to Israel
Clear information regarding the levels of infection in Israel that will lead to a decision to ban tourists again. The decision making process must be transparent.
Aviation: support and incentives for international airlines to fly to Ramon Airport in Eilat this winter.
Marketing: A digital campaign (that can be expanded or scaled back down according to objectives and results) for Israel's main source markets (USA, Germany, UK, Italy, Russia etc) for relevant market segments that will be the first to resume travel.
PR: Invite bloggers and journalists to come and visit Israel now to create exposure for main and niche brands.
Uri Sharon is a tourism professional with a Master's degree in Tourism Development and Planning from Haifa University. He is the founder and editor of trvltrend.com and has many years of experience in digital and offline marketing, e-commerce, integrative media planning and public relations. The main focus of his writing is digital trends in travel and hospitality