Israel plans to reopen to tourists in May, eyes travelers from UAE

But Health Ministry recommends program be postponed until June, citing India variant

Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on a hot spring day, April 19, 2021 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on a hot spring day, April 19, 2021 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen is anxious to welcome tourists back to Israel, and not a moment too soon.

Farkash-Hacohen unveiled a four-part plan to reporters on Tuesday, including a global advertising campaign, flight incentives to Eilat, the reintroduction of large international events, while outlining the more technical aspects of travel during the pandemic, including vaccinations and serological tests.

“We want to breathe oxygen back into the tourism economy of Israel, and Israel has the advantage as a healthy, vaccinated country,” said Farkash-Hacohen at a press conference Tuesday in Tel Aviv.

The Tourism Ministry’s plan is to reopen the country to vaccinated tourists from next month, with Israel specifically seeking to woo travelers from the United Arab Emirates, the United States and United Kingdom.

“These are the countries with a high percentage of vaccinations, and cities with great economic potential for Israel,” said Farkash-Hacohen.

The Health Ministry, however, on Tuesday recommended delaying the relaunch of tourism until June, citing deadly coronavirus variants sweeping many countries, most notably India.

At Tuesday’s press conference in Tel Aviv, Farkash-Hacohen announced the launch of a campaign to welcome as many tourists as possible to Israel in the remaining months of 2021.

“Israel today is a world leader in safety and health, and we will make sure every potential tourist knows this when planning their summer or winter vacation,” said Farkash-Hacohen. “We cannot miss this opportunity – and as minister of tourism I won’t.”

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen holds a press conference in Tel Aviv. (Rafi Ben Hakon/GPO)

The first part of the campaign will be digital billboards advertising Israel as a tourism destination, placed in Dubai, London and New York.

“Dubai has great tourism potential for Israel,” she said. Israel and the UAE established diplomatic ties last year.

The billboards, being placed along a major Dubai highway, in London’s Piccadilly Circus and above New York’s Times Square, feature the tagline: “2020 Holy Moses, 2021 Holy Land.”

The tourism minister also revealed additional steps aimed at ramping up tourism, including advertising major international events like the Pride Parade in Tel Aviv and the Abraham Cycling Cup bicycle race being planned by philanthropist Sylvan Adams in the Emirates and Israel.

Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade, which didn’t take place in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, may not be open to all vaccinated tourists, said Farkash-Hacohen, but it would still be one of the few international events taking place this summer.

Farkash-Hacohen also announced plans to reinstate government incentives for airlines to fly directly to Eilat, with a particular emphasis on planning winter trips to the southern resort city.

A technician collects nasal swab samples at the coronavirus lab at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv on December 14, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“Ensuring inbound tourism to Eilat is my obligation to the city’s residents,” she said, “but this is also a clear statement to the entire tourism industry: we are preparing for the resumption of tourism on a large scale as soon as possible.”

Farkash-Hacohen said that the opening of the borders to a first 40 groups of vaccinated tourists will move forward as scheduled on May 23. She suggested that an unlimited number of vaccinated tourist groups could begin arriving in June, and the possible opening of Israel to individual, vaccinated tourists at the beginning in July.

Besides the serological and PCR testing that would be required for any entering vaccinated tourist, Farkash-Hacohen said that any individual tourists would have to book their tickets with travel agents, so that Israeli officials would be able to follow up with them while in Israel.

Farkash-Hacohen added that Israel would only open its borders to tourists vaccinated with FDA- or EU-approved vaccinations, barring tourists from countries such as Russia for the time being.

Israel’s Health Ministry recommended on Tuesday that the May 23 date be delayed until the end of June, and that seven countries be placed under new, strict travel restrictions: India, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey.

Illustrative: An El Al plane at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. (Flash90)

The Health Ministry’s recommendation will need to be approved at a cabinet meeting, and is likely to be the subject of heavy debate, with opposition from the Tourism Ministry.

Farkash-Hacohen said she believes the Tourism Ministry plan should move ahead as planned in a safe and secure manner.

“I know there is some criticism, and I can even agree with some of it,” Farkash-Hacohen said. “We are gradually reopening tourism to Israel, to ensure we protect the health and wellbeing of all Israelis, while enabling those in the tourism sector to return to work and rebuild — and welcoming back the many people yearning to return.”

Israel’s coronavirus caseload has plummeted due to its successful vaccination campaign, which has seen over 5 million of its 9 million citizens fully vaccinated.

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