Israel's Bennett pushes tourism industry assistance package

The joint assistance package comes amid new restrictions and worries regarding the novel Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Tourists look at a mobile phone as they stand at an observation point overlooking the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old City (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tourists look at a mobile phone as they stand at an observation point overlooking the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old City
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett unveiled a new assistance package for the beleaguered tourism industry on Wednesday.

The package, co-sponsored by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Tourism Minister Yoel Razbozov and Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbibai, comes amid new restrictions and worries regarding the novel Omicron variant of the coronavirus and will soon be submitted for government approval.

Initiatives announced in the bill include a total of NIS 150 million in grants for hotels that have experienced decreases in revenue totaling 40% or more, a NIS 60 m. fund to reimburse marketing costs, salaries and expenses, about 25,000 free tours funded by the state for the public, and a subsidized retraining program for those employed in the tourism industry that will prepare them for professions in hi-tech, industrial and other fields.

"I thank the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Economy, the Ministers of Government and the professionals for their hard work and sincere understanding regarding the plight of the workers and workers of the tourism industry," Razbozov said.

The program will further offer tourism workers immediate employment in COVID response roles, such as within the education system and local authorities, for a salary of NIS 11,000 per month.

EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN pilgrims and tourists reach for the sky at a 2019 religious retreat in Nazareth (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN pilgrims and tourists reach for the sky at a 2019 religious retreat in Nazareth (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

"We stand up to help the people of the tourism industry in difficult times. The goal is to protect the health of Israeli citizens from the Omicron strain while keeping the economy open," Bennett said. “We have formulated a significant assistance package for the tourism industry and we continue to formulate solutions for everyone who needs it. We are aware of the needs and stand by the workers of the industry."

"The tourism industry is the source of livelihood for tens of thousands of families in Israel and its impact on the Israeli economy is unquestionable," Barbibai declared. "I am pleased with the decision of the Prime Minister and the ministers to see employment as a tool for maintaining a stable economy and raising productivity until tourism returns to full normal."

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a significant decrease in the number of tourists to Israel over the last two years – while 2019 saw roughly 4.5 million tourists enter Israel, only about 370,000 have entered in 2021 as of November, according to Liberman.

"We are not giving up the tourism industry but we are looking ahead,” Liberman said. "We continue to pursue a responsible policy of living alongside Corona. The new reality requires us all to prepare accordingly.

"We are investing tens of thousands of shekels in every job of the tourism industry in vocational training, living expenses and professional placement, and we will continue to invest a lot of resources in the future to enable a better life alongside the corona."

Liberman clarified statements he made last Sunday when he said tour guides and travel agents should “find other work.” “My wording could have been more successful, but the numbers are undeniable,” he told his Yisrael Beytenu faction on Monday.

Zachy Hennessey and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.