Israeli holiday travel to Europe largely ‘stopped dead’ due to entry ban fears

Large-scale trips were expected over the High Holidays, but after Portugal and Sweden bar Israelis many fear further restrictions being implemented and rethink plans

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Travellers at the Ben Gurion International Airport on September 13, 2021. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Travellers at the Ben Gurion International Airport on September 13, 2021. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Israelis are abandoning plans to travel to Europe in large numbers, amid fears that they could find themselves barred from entry or suddenly required to quarantine upon return home.

Travel agents report many people changing plans and deciding to staycation over the Jewish holidays, after decisions two weeks ago by Portugal and Sweden to bar Israelis except for essential and humanitarian needs raised worries that other countries will follow suit and holidays would be suddenly disrupted.

Two other countries, France and Switzerland, last week decided to bar non-vaccinated Israelis.

Travelers from Israel and the US who are not inoculated against the coronavirus are now only permitted entry to France if they can prove an essential reason for making the trip and can present a negative test before traveling. And they will need to quarantine for seven days upon arrival.

Switzerland said that as of Monday, Israel will be added to its list of “coronavirus risk countries” and unvaccinated Israelis can only enter the country in a case of “utmost necessity.” Vaccinated Israelis will still be granted entry.

Holland is demanding that all Israelis arriving quarantine, which makes it an impractical destination for most leisure travelers.

Several other EU countries are barring non-vaccinated Israelis.

“We were expecting to see lots of travel to Europe over the chagim season, but it’s been stopped dead in its tracks,” Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours, a large Jerusalem travel agency, told The Times of Israel, explaining that fear of broadening bans is affecting people more than the existing bans.

People wear face masks arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Flash90)

As many Israelis shun travel to Europe, there is a sharp rise in bookings to Canada, after Ottawa last week changed its border rules to allow people who have received a recognized vaccine — which includes the Pfizer shots used in Israel — to enter.

Israel’s aged under 12 aren’t eligible for vaccines, but Canada allows under-12s to move around freely on the condition that they are tested before flying, upon arrival and on their eighth day in the country.

The base fell out of Israeli travel to Europe suddenly over the last two weeks, after the European Union removed Israel from a list of nations deemed “epidemiologically safe,” and Portugal and Sweden responded by slapping entry bans on Israelis.

Feldman said that while only two European countries have barred all Israelis, it has shattered the confidence of travelers, who now fear that other countries will make sudden decisions to implement similar bans.

“We’re trying to tell people that making plans, even for today and tomorrow, is next to impossible,” he said.

One of several Israeli passengers barred from getting on a flight to Portugal at Ben Gurion Airport on September 2, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

The impact on business travel has been enormous, he reported. “Once the EU made its announcement, all [Israeli] businesses planning travel stopped Europe trips completely,” Feldman said.

Frequent changes to Israel’s quarantine regulations for returning travelers are also discouraging travel, Feldman said. The Health Ministry regularly revises rules applying to citizens who return from various countries, and this raises concerns that people will book expecting a quarantine-free return but this will change.

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