What is Israeli tourism going to look like in 2021? - opinion

Israel is blithely ignoring the ability to test incoming tourists or even returning Israelis.

Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv, July 15, 2020 (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv, July 15, 2020
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
When it comes to getting its citizens immunized for COVID-19, Israel is way ahead of the pack. By hook or by crook everyone that wishes to be vaccinated will have their two shots by the end of March. And not a Russian or Chinese vaccine or even Israel's homegrown vaccine, but courtesy – at a huge cost – of Pfizer and Moderna.
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Having nationalized health insurance with strong competition resulted in all the HMOs coming out strong to vaccinate their members. Almost round-the-clock centers have been opened and Israel is already giving out second shots with nearly two million Israelis vaccinated as of today. All of them will receive a vaunted Green Passport which, while suitable for framing, will in the beginning have little effect on tourism. Keep in mind that even with the vaccine you can still be a carrier and while Cyprus already has announced it will open its shores to those eligible Israelis, no other countries have come forward. Both Europe and the United States are deep in trying to roll out their vaccinations, so opening their countries to outsiders is very low on their agenda.
Israel is blithely ignoring the ability to test incoming tourists or even returning Israelis. We find it easier to keep our borders shut for any and all tourists with very few exceptions. Ministry of Health officials are cognizant of the fact that dozens of countries demand a negative COVID-19 test to enter but the beleaguered bureaucrats in Israel have stated they do not wish to rely upon outside tests. Yes, their feeling is why trust COVID-19 tests from the US or Europe – simply damn all results as flawed and batten down the hatches.
This ignorant policy will change, but tourism in Israel in 2021 will not see any signs of recovery until summer. Both Passover and Easter will be a disaster for Israeli hotels and only once the pandemic is under control will tourists start considering coming to Israel. I do not see any sizable recovery before July and August, and for 2021 if we reach 50% of tourism numbers compared to 2019 it will be a miracle.
What is needed is the tourism industry in its entirety to demand that the government take proper steps to opening our borders. Require a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of boarding a plane to Israel. Demand a second one upon landing, at the passenger's expense, with a response from the Check2fly testing lab operating at Ben-Gurion airport within four hours, which is what its tender was designed for.
The hospitality infrastructure in Israel is already prepared for COVID-19. Potential customers already know how to check if their hotel is safe. The hotel publishes detailed and specific information about its cleaning efforts. For example, it does not just say it cleans public areas; it tells you how often. It will not just tell you that it has removed certain amenities after the outbreak. Instead, the hotel informs you that it has removed its famous Israeli breakfast buffet.
It also has adjusted its change and refund policies to allow guests to cancel at the last minute in case of a future outbreak. A hotel that puts guests' health before profits is far likelier to take sanitation seriously.
If you are planning to travel internationally, odds are that you are going to need to pack a negative COVID-19 test. As countries begin to reopen to tourists, they want to ensure that visitors are not bringing the virus with them. That is why nearly every country currently open requires a recent negative test. And why sooner or later so will Israel. And the sooner we implement these changes, the sooner we will be on the way to receiving three million tourists this year.
Mark Feldman is the director of Diesenhaus.