Israel’s Ministry of Tourism (IMOT) is gradually beginning to reopen its domestic tourism sector after nearly two months of countrywide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 27, it was established that beginning Sunday, May 3, hotels and other accommodation establishments with ground-floor rooms will be permitted to operate as the inaugural step in the tourism industry’s return to operation.
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“Israel remains cautious about the protocols in place to safeguard its population during the current situation when Covid19 is taking its toll around the globe,” an official press release from the Ministry of Tourism explains. “The return to activity will be subject to several measurable health and safety factors.”
The release continues that further procedures will be drawn up in the coming days in collaboration with the Ministry of Health regarding the operation of hotels and other accommodations during the pandemic.
“The decision to gradually reopen the tourism sector is an important one and shows the great importance of this industry,” stated Gal Hana, Consul of Tourism for Canada, in the release.
“Tourism and travel are big and important sectors in the Israeli economy – especially in recent years with a record-breaking number of tourists who chose Israel as their favourite destination.”
The release continues that the speedy and decisive response to the pandemic by the Israeli government is what has enabled the country to initiate this phase in its recovery process, continuing that Israel was one of the first countries to implement a complete countrywide lockdown.
This lockdown included grounding all flights in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport, closing all land borders, and suspending all hotel and accommodation operations.
“Strict measures were put into place to prevent persons from congregating, non-essential businesses were shut down, and other businesses and industry closed thus keeping workers and general population safe and at home,” the release explains.
In a statement sent to Mapped, Hana explained that, while the world is beginning to show signs of recovering from the pandemic, authorities must continue to maintain discussions and debates so as not to “project a sense of false reality.”
“The Covid-19 epidemic has changed our world. It has shifted the way we perceive tourism and travel,” Hana stated. “This is why it is crucial, especially in times like this, for us to keep planning for the future and dreaming about travelling again, once this is over.”
Hana continues that many people in Israel rely on the travel industry, as it is one of the country’s primary economic sectors. However, more than that, it is a vessel that provides individuals with a deeper connection and perspective by experiencing different cultures and “bridging the human race, helping to build a better world.”
According to Hana, in the past three years, Israel has experienced a substantial surge in tourism. The industry now employs roughly 150,000 people and contributes 20 billion Israeli Shekel (CAD $8 billion) annually to the country’s economy.
“During the early stages of Covid-19, Israel made the difficult decision to close tourism to minimize the outbreak, ensuring critical health measures were in place for the safety of the citizens, as well as travellers,” Hana explained.
“While this was not a popular decision, it is the main reason why the outbreak in Israel has been low. It is also a factor that has allowed for us to begin opening the economy today.”
In addition to domestic travel being permitted, schools have also begun to welcome students back, and small and medium-sized businesses, national parks, hotels, and attractions have reopened for Israeli travellers.
“People in Israel are optimistic,” Hana continued, “As hard as the last two months were the early kickoff has given everyone hope 2020 will be a good year.”
The Ministry of Tourism also worked closely with the Ministry of Health to develop a new set of directives in the form of the “Covid-19 Safety Certificate” for the travel industry.
As such, hotels have increased their health precautions and protocols, conducting thorough routine check-ups to ensure the health of all guests. Additionally, the National Parks Authority has also instilled new regulations that allow for safe physical distancing. Such provisions include extended hours of operation as well as limiting the number of people at any given time.
“As the domestic travel resumes, IMOT is building the foundations to welcome international travellers as well,” Hana stated. “As the world prepares and plans for the future of travel, IMOT is working with the industry abroad. We are offering professional webinars, agents training sessions, virtual events and experiences.”
The ministry has also rolled out a social media campaign with the hashtag #InspiredByIsrael, encouraging users to share their memories from Israel.
“We are preparing for the days Canadians, Americans, Europeans and Asians can join Israeli travellers again in Caesarea, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and all the places in between,” Hana concluded.