JERUSALEM — Israel has devised a strategic plan to welcome back tourists by mid-2021, an ambitious goal that comes as vaccination efforts ramp up in destination.
According to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, a series of initiatives has been launched to preserve the country’s tourist infrastructure and prepare the sector for the “day after the pandemic.” Rolling out throughout the year, this master tourism plan creates a holistic approach at a national level that includes a multi-million-dollar hotel grant, a new touring program and a campaign that focuses on Israel’s ‘green’ tourist islands.
“This past year has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry,” said Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen. “Despite the difficulties, we were able to implement significant plans that helped the economy during this period, including the green islands outline, a NIS 300 million grant for hoteliers, early opening of ‘tzimmerim’ (B&Bs), a touring program with licenced guides, a personal security program in hotels and more.”
The Minister added that the Ministry is working with the Ministry of Health on an exit plan for the tourism industry, which “will operate under the principle that whoever was most affected in previous times will be among the first to open as we exit lockdown.” This will help ensure reduced costs that benefit both owners and consumers.
“A lot of work still lies ahead of us, we will find the right balance between the economy and the virus and we will give breathing space to the various sectors that have been affected in the industry,” he said.
Prior to the pandemic, Israel was on track to achieve a record number of tourist arrivals and was expecting to reach – for the first time ever – its five millionth tourist. But with the immediate closure of borders, the destination achieved just 850,000 arrivals in 2020, a staggering decrease of 81.3% compared to 2019 when it recorded an all-time high of 4.55 million tourist arrivals. The Ministry of Tourism reports that nearly 200,000 families employed in tourism lost their livelihoods.
But 2021 will be a different story, said Ministry of Tourism Director General Amir Halevi.
“Thanks to the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light of day, we are preparing tailored work plans and various tools for bringing back incoming tourism,” he said. “We hope that in the coming months we will once again witness incoming tourism traffic, which is critical to employment and an important engine in the Israeli economy.”
Here is an overview of new tourism initiatives:
GREEN TOURIST ISLANDS
The Ministry of Tourism, together with the Ministry of Health, spearheaded the declaration of Eilat and the Dead Sea hotels area as a ‘special tourist area.’ As such, Israelis have been permitted to vacation in these areas during the pandemic (subject to restrictions and a negative test result). A new campaign called ‘Bring Tourism Back to Israel’ was launched by the Ministry of Tourism to encourage Israelis to vacation in these areas.
The Minister of Tourism promoted the release of grants to hoteliers last year, lowering the property tax conditions that affected the allocation of such grants. A total of NIS 300 million will be given by the Ministry of Tourism in three instalments, the last of which will be distributed in May 2021.
In light of the crisis, which caused many tour guides to lose their jobs, the Ministry of Tourism budgeted for thousands of guided tours for the general public that will take place through March 2021 via the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). Also, for the first time, “guiding hours” will be funded by local authorities on behalf of INPA, allowing people to independently tour sites and attractions, thereby assisting the tourism industry. The Ministry of Tourism as allocated NIS 10 million to the INPA to finance the service of tour guides.
In addition, in order to further assist tour guides, the Ministry has advanced regulations that allow the renewal of a tour guide licence for one year without any conditions. It has also released guides from paying a licence fee for 2021.
WEBINARS & OVERSEAS MARKETING
The Ministry of Tourism has conducted dozens of webinars led by tourism experts in order to help tourism business owners upgrade their business in advance of tourism’s return. With the assistance of the Office’s Digital Technologies and Information Division, a total of 74 webinars were held in 2020 on topics relevant to the promotion of tourism to Israel, with thousands of agents and industry professionals participating.
In addition, the Ministry has launched campaigns aimed at encouraging domestic tourism during periods when it was possible to safely take a vacation, and continued to participate in virtual and in-person trade fairs in Europe, the United States and Asia. At the same time, it increased its digital activity abroad, particularly on social networks; in the past year, the Ministry’s social media pages gained 5.9 million followers.
In 2020, the Ministry of Tourism, in cooperation with the Israel Land Authority, has marketed 10 plots for hotel accommodation, thus advancing the process of building approximately 2,050 new hotel rooms. Also in 2020, a government decision was approved for the Minster of Tourism to create a master plan for tourism infrastructure at the national level. Work has already begun on a northern and southern outline in collaboration with research companies and local authorities. The plan takes into account accommodations, attractions, transportation and more.