Sinai crossing to open Tuesday as Israelis flock to Eilat hotels for Passover

Southern resort city returns to semblance of normalcy; Egypt destination to allow in 300 Israelis a day — with pre-travel approval and virus tests even for the vaccinated

File: View of the marina in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, December 20, 2012. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
File: View of the marina in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, December 20, 2012. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

The Taba border crossing with Egypt will open Tuesday for the first time in a year to Israelis seeking to visit the Sinai Peninsula, and will stay open until April 12.

Up to 300 people will be allowed to pass — on foot only — daily on weekdays (Sunday to Thursday), provided that they are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 and received approval for the trip in advance.

People traveling to the Sinai will also have to take a coronavirus test in advance before entering the Egyptian territory, and another test before they reenter Israel, Channel 12 reported Monday.

Foreign diplomats and people on humanitarian missions will also be eligible for approval to pass.

View of the empty Taba crossing between Israel and Egypt, as seen from the southern Israeli city of Eilat, January 28, 2021. (Flash90)

On the Israeli side of the southern border, vacationers flocked to the resort city of Eilat as Passover began over the weekend. The holiday is traditionally a time of year when Israelis travel with their families since schools are out for a period of over two weeks and many workplaces have reduced hours.

The past year has been a difficult one for Eilat, with the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions greatly reducing tourism, which is a large part of the city’s economy.

However, with many countries still not open to international tourism, Eilat has recently rebounded, with many Israelis streaming into the city. Pools at hotels were open, as were buffet tables, with Israel’s successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign and declining coronavirus numbers allowing resorts to give guests something approaching a full, pre-pandemic experience.

“The people of Israel went from slavery to freedom, and the people of Israel here are finally going on vacation, to enjoy this life,” a hotel guest named Ronen, from Petah Tikva, told Channel 12, referencing the biblical exodus of the Jews from Egypt, which is recounted in the Passover Seder meal.

As of Monday, hotels in Eilat were reportedly at 80 percent capacity.

Still, local business owners said that not all is back to normal.

“Eilat is not… as sizzling as it was before. You can still see the impact outside and in the hotels. Because usually during the first [part of the] holiday are at 90% capacity, and by the end of the second [part of the] holiday you are up to 100% — but we’re not there yet, and we’re also stopping sales because we have a human resources limit,” said Salman Abu-Ahmad, CEO of the Astral Palma Hotel.

File: An aerial view of Eilat, on October 21, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

In an effort to attract tourists, the Eilat tourism corporation is offering 101 activities for free — subsidized by the Eilat municipality to help local businesses.

A main concern in travel to the city is COVID-19 restrictions on children, the vast majority of whom are not currently vaccinated. Kids staying in the city’s hotels need to take a coronavirus test in advance, or take a quick virus test every 24 hours while they’re in the city.

Prices for a two-night stay in one of Eilat’s hotels during the second Passover holiday, according to Channel 12, range between NIS 2,800 and 3,700 for two people, including airfare. For a couple with two children, typical prices go up to between NIS 5,020 and NIS 6,700 for a three-night stay.

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