After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers are looking – and booking – trips they hope to make in the coming months, and Israel is one of the top global destinations being touted for where to go.
“Israel is the first country to use the Green Pass. The world is looking at Israel as a tourist destination because of this Green Pass concept,” Joanna Landau, founder and CEO of Vibe Israel, a nonprofit organization that seeks to showcase Israel and share its story globally, tells NoCamels. Landau is referring to the “Green Pass” certificate which enables people who have been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus to take part in various activities and events that have been off-limits for over a year, and which was introduced by the Health Ministry in February.
“Here, we’re living with COVID-19. We’re proving to the world that the vaccination [may not] solve the problem but certainly helps to live with it,” she says.
Indeed, local tourism, cultural events and dining out are again part of the norm in day-to-day Israel.
“It’s really exciting that we can open our doors again. This is the first time there’s a feeling that we’ll be able to stay open,” Caroline Shapiro-Weiss, director of International Public Relations at the Tower of David Museum, told NoCamels last month as Israel started opening up to local tourism.
“Even if we cannot welcome foreign tourists just yet, because no one has been out for a year, the whole country can be tourists to Jerusalem,” she said.
But it’s not just Jerusalem: a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Israel has amazing and diverse offerings that have been closed off to the public since March 2020. It is a country with thousands of years of history alongside chic, modern-day life. There’s Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps. The unique Dead Sea and magnificent Negev Desert. Nature parks galore. And delicious food.
International media and travel-related companies are putting Israel as a destination for post COVID-19 travel. “I already have a lot of bookings for October, November, December.”
“Tourists will be tempted to make Israel their first post-pandemic trip,” reads an article in Travel & Leisure on new hotel openings around the country. “While traveling to Israel isn’t in the cards right now, this might also be the best time to plan a future trip. The Israel Ministry of Tourism is hopeful that the country will be able to welcome back tourists from the US and Canada as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”
Royal Caribbean International also recently announced that its new ship, Odyssey of the Seas, will begin sailing from Israel in May 2021.
Airlines have also been announcing a relaunch of daily flights. American Airlines recently announced a direct daily flight from JFK in New York City to Tel Aviv starting in May. Delta, United Airlines, and EL AL Airlines also have some daily options.
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“We had wonderful years, 2018, 2019 were amazing in terms of tourism. Now, it all depends on the government and when they will open the border. If our clients were able to vote, I think the border would have opened two months ago,” says Peretz.
Landau says now is the time for the local tourism industry to look beyond and “view the pandemic as a huge opportunity to rise above, even higher than what we did in 2019. We need to leverage the crisis and turn it into an opportunity for tourism.”
The novel coronavirus devastated the tourism industry around the world.
“It was a very tough situation,” says Peretz, who runs high-quality, gay travel services to Mediterranean destinations.
But he believes that people “have short term memories” and that Israel as an international travel destination is definite. In fact, he is so sure that tourists are set to return here that in the middle of the lockdowns, and when the skies were still closed, he launched a second travel company four months ago, that is offering luxurious experiences of the Middle East.
“We now have the potential to bring clients from Morocco, the UAE and the Gulf countries, they are curious about Israel,” says Peretz. “And that’s the reason why we opened the second company. We’re super excited.”
In December, Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen addressed an audience at the first virtual UAE-Israel tourism forum hosted by the officials from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and said she hoped to see 100,000 visitors from Emirates when skies open.
“Israel is preparing to welcome tourists from the UAE and will be adhering to the advice of health experts to ensure it remains a safe destination in terms of COVID-19 exposure, as we expect some 100,000 annual visitors from the Emirates once the skies open,” she said.
Israel is a new travel destination for its neighboring countries. And it remains a travel destination for the global community.
“I’ve never seen this much interest in Israeli tourism than I’ve seen right now,” Landau tells NoCamels.
“COVID-19 has created another opportunity. Because of the vaccinations. And Israel is the first country to use the Green Pass. It’s already opened up for culture and lifestyle. Now business as well. The world is looking at Israel as a tourist destination. We’re literally the first — when are we ever the first? –we’ve got this amazing, amazing opportunity, and very time limited to be the first to bring back travel,” says Landau.
“We’ve got a great offering, whether it’s Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, food culture, desert, weather, beaches, and it’s safe. We’ve all been vaccinated. We will only let in vaccinated people, and when you’re here, there’s an adherence to the basic rules,” Landau adds. “Israel is one of the few countries we can actually travel to, once we open the skies.”
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com