The tourism industry in Israel, which reopened in late 2021 after nearly two years of severe pandemic restrictions, continues to grow as we get closer to summer.
During the busiest months of April and May in the industry, the numbers are not as high as before the pandemic, but gradually increase.
Lydia Weitzman, foreign press adviser at the Ministry of Tourism, said: “The Ministry of Tourism estimates that around 30,000 tourists will arrive in Israel this week for the April holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan. The gradual increase in tourism since Israel’s skies reopened last month can be seen and heard at tourist, religious and cultural sites across the country.
There have been drastic changes in tourism over the past few years as expected with heavily restricted tourism until the end of 2021. Ministry reports show tourism was down 84% in Q1 (Q1) of 2022 compared to 2019. There was a 65% decrease in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 2020, and only 16,000 tourists entered Israel in the first quarter of 2021. This number was 1,052,600 in the first quarter of 2019.
The Ministry of Health imposed travel restrictions related to COVID-19 as early as February 2020. More than a year later, at the end of May 2021, vaccinated foreign nationals were allowed to enter Israel for the first time. Tourist visas were only granted in August 2021 for tourist groups, then under strict guidelines. The ministry announced that all tourists, in accordance with specific COVID-19 regulations, could enter the country from November 1, 2021.
PCR tests are still required for international travelers upon arrival at an Israeli airport or border crossing under Health Ministry rules. Israeli passport holders are exempt from this test. Tourists are required to self-isolate until they receive a negative COVID-19 test, whether vaccinated or not.
Tamir Kobrin, general manager of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, said bookings had “tripled” from a year ago. However, the hotel is only 60% full of the volume it saw in March 2019, before the global pandemic hit, he said.
Kobrin said the hotel welcomes a variety of travelers, modified tours, evangelical groups, donors, and political and government delegations. He believes that the war in Ukraine does not have a significant impact on hotel visits.
The King David in Jerusalem, named a 2021 Travelers’ Choice Hotel by Tripadvisor, is receiving daily cancellations due to coronavirus cases, according to Kobrin. Recent security threats are also having a slight impact on hotel business, he added, but COVID-19 is the leading cause of booking cancellations and it looks like there will continue to be a little.
Green Olive Tours is an alternative travel agency established in 2007, offering tours in Israel and the West Bank on the culture, politics and history of Israel and Palestine. A company representative claimed that business is slowly picking up, but there is still a drastic difference between the company’s busiest months, April and May, in 2022 compared to 2019.
Green Olive Tours tour guides have been forced to find new ways to make money during the nearly two years Israel has not allowed tourists into the country. The travel agency attracts an international English-speaking crowd and serves many European travelers. Only some of the tour guides have returned to Green Olives Tours.
European tourists are not visiting Israel as they were before the global pandemic, according to figures reported by the Ministry of Tourism. In fact, for many countries, fewer tourists visited in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 2020. For example, 58,700 tourists arrived in Israel from Poland in the first quarter of 2019. In 2020, this number was 45,000 and only 1,900 in 2022. Tourism of Belarus was almost identical in the first quarter of 2019 and 2020, then fell significantly in 2022. The figures are 12,100, 11,200 and 1,100 respectively. this year include the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Green Olive Tours has recently experienced cancellations due to heightened tension in the area. While some people remain too nervous to travel at this time, post-pandemic economic conditions are further contributing to the overall decline in numbers this year, the company says. Rising travel and accommodation costs have forced the company to increase its rates, as have many companies around the world. People cannot afford to travel in the post-pandemic era, according to the company representative.
In contrast, Mark Feldman, CEO and founder of Ziontours Jerusalem, an American company based in Jerusalem, said “tourists are coming here in droves that we haven’t seen in years.”
US tourism to Israel is up about half of what it was from January 2019 to March 2019, according to the Tourism Ministry.
Feldman said Ziontours hasn’t seen any cancellations due to safety concerns. He says other world events, such as the war in Ukraine and the elections in France, have taken precedence over international media coverage. The eclipse of Israeli security concerns on platforms such as CNN and Fox News has helped attract tourists, he says.