The Tourism Ministers of Israel, Greece and Cyprus have been discussing a proposal to create a safe zone for tourism between the countries, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin’s office confirmed on Tuesday.
Israel is cautiously examining the Greek initiative, which would not go into effect at least until mid-June, as first reported by Kann. All three countries involved have had relative success in curbing the spread of coronavirus and keeping the number of severe cases low.
The discussions on the matter are in very early stages and Israel is still checking whether such a safe zone would be possible, a Foreign Ministry source said.
The logic behind creating an Israel-Greece-Cyprus zone is that people are less likely to be willing to travel far in the coming months, but may be more open to visiting neighboring countries. The economies of Greece and Cyprus rely heavily on tourism, which was only 5.9% of Israel’s GDP in 2018.
One of the major obstacles to creating a safe zone for tourism between the three countries is the mandatory quarantines for arrivals from abroad; Israel requires two weeks of isolation after foreign travel. Another issue is that Greece and Cyprus are both EU member states that have open borders with the rest of the Schengen Area under normal circumstances.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz spoke with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias on Tuesday about “the improving coronavirus situation in our countries and continued economic cooperation,” Katz wrote on twitter.
Tourism accounted for 25.7-30.9% of Greece’s GDP in 2018, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation’s research department, and 90% of tourism revenue came from abroad. Therefore, their economy is expected to be hit hard if the summer tourism season is canceled.
Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said “Israel is one of our strategic targets for the reopening of tourism in Greece. As a result, we have already started discussions and preliminary phases on how to align our hygiene standards and protocols which will allow travel to resume between the two countries. This is still early stages, but we are very hopeful that we can come to a mutual agreement.”
Asked about the matter of open borders between EU countries, including those with a high number of COVID-19 cases, Theoharis said Greece is working to “establish requirements which will limit the possibility of someone with coronavirus to enter Greece in the first place…irrespective of the epidemiological phase the country is currently in.”
Theoharis expressed confidence that “Greece will stay a safe place despite opening borders and opening for tourism.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told CNN on Monday that he seeks to have Greece “open for business on July 1,” by setting “strict but also enforceable protocols.”
Tourism makes up 21.9% of Cyprus’s GDP, according to the Knoema World Data Atlas.
Israel Director of the Cyprus Tourism Organization Louisa Varaclas said “tourism is very important to us and we are working towards” starting the industry up again.
“We just started lifting [lockdown] measures yesterday and taking it two to 2.5 weeks at a time. At the end of every stage we check the situation and then move on. Based on that, the opening of tourism and flights will hopefully take place around mid-June. That is the target,” Varaclas said.
This week, Cyprus’s government began holding meetings with the different parts of the tourism industry to set the conditions by which hotels, airlines and others can operate.
“Our first concern is not only with bringing in tourism, but we want the tourists to be safe and our people to be safe,” Varaclas added.
The Government of Cyprus said their countries will only be open to tourists from countries with a low rate of coronavirus infections, a list that includes Israel, along with Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Greece.
Though Israel is still closed to non-residents, some tourism sites reopened this week, including as zimmers (bed-and-breakfasts) and hotels with only a ground level. Hotel facilities, such as shared dining rooms and swimming pools, must remain closed.