Israel Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen is hopeful visitors can return in a “month or so”.

Israel’s successful vaccination drive and reopening of hotels and hospitality sectors has given hope that sooner rather than later tourists can return but strict measures for travel will be in place.

“As Israel vaccinates its population, the tourism and hospitality sectors are reopening, allowing us to plan for the return of tourists soon,” she explained this week. With around 80 percent Israelis vaccinated the country is “not only an attractive destination but a healthy destination,” Farkash-Hacohen added.

The Tourism Minister was speaking at an ITB Berlin online conference with Minister Gustavo Segura Sancho of Costa Rica and Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority in the UAE.

The trio discussed the impact Covid-19 had on international tourism and prospects for reopening.

Farkash-Hacohen summarised how the pandemic had affected Israeli tourism as “a big blow”.

The Ministry though has helped industries by compensating hotels with NIS millions subsidising tours and supporting tour guides among other measures.

“None of this of course is full compensation, but it helped during this difficult year,” Farkash-Hacohen explained. “Now we are hopeful tourists can soon return, allowing the various tourism-oriented businesses to get back on their feet.”

Speaking about the impact of vaccinations on travel, Farkash-Hacohen noted five million people had been vaccinated of Israel’s nine-million population. But protocols would be needed for international carriers and visitors to fly in and out Israel.

“This is my greatest challenge at the moment” she explained. “I am working with the health and transportation ministers to gradually open Israel’s skies and allow more tourists in.”

As for a date to open, the Minister noted, “It will take some time, possibly a month or so” but she was “optimistic”.

A need to open the skies for international tourism was agreed by all speakers.

“We need to find ways to open up travel,” Phillips said, adding vaccinations were essential from a “safety and security” perspective. “Travel has to be enjoyable,” he noted.

Minister Sancho said protocols regarding health and wellbeing of employees and travellers were vital. “We need to continue the important steps taken, and not forget them because of vaccinations,” he said.

Farkash-Hacohen concluded, “I would like to see more people entering with vaccinations or negative PCR tests so we have more tourists, but it is a gradual process. At the policy level, we need to balance opening the skies with protecting the public’s health.”

In Israel, a range of new hotels, projects, attractions and updates to historical sites are in place.

New hotels include the Six Senses Shaharut in Arava Valley in the Negev, Soho House in the historic Jaffa neighbourhood and Brown Boutique Hotel Group’s third hotel in the heart Jerusalem.

The Tower of David is an iconic symbol of Jerusalem and has been one of many sites renovated while tourists have been away. The complex is undergoing a multi-million-dollar conservation project for the first time in fifty years. Lifts and ramps will be accessible. A permanent exhibition of Jerusalem’s history will offer an interactive exploration of the city’s rich history.

The Old City is also more accessible to wheelchair users and emergency vehicles. The project will take a number of years to complete but lockdown restrictions have aided work. Other features include a renovation of public services, signs to main sights, replacement of stone cladding and highlighting archaeological owners in public spaces.

Meantime, Royal Caribbean’s highly anticipated brand-new ship Odyssey of the Seas, is expected to begin sailing from Haifa in May. The global cruise line will offer travellers a roundtrip to Mediterranean destinations including Rhodes, Mykonos and Athens, Greece and Limassol, Cyprus.

Royal Caribbean in conjunction with Israel’s health and tourism authorities offer fully vaccinated sailings. Crew and guests above the age of 16 will be vaccinated against Covid-19.

New developments come as domestic tourism is re-opening with coronavirus restrictions and guidelines. An exit plan is based on Purple and Green Badge outlines.

Entry to hotels, cultural and sports events, gyms and studios, swimming pools and places of worship is allowed to Green Badge holders. Holders must present in digital or print form with ID to establishments details of both vaccines or confirmation they have recovered from Covid.

Purple Badge standards require social distancing and mask wearing (mandatory in Israel).

Shopping centres, markets, shops, museums, libraries, zoos, outdoor tourist attractions and safaris are open according to strict measures of the badge. Nature reserves and parks are open with advance registration and limited numbers.

“Like all countries around the world, not being able to welcome tourists to our beautiful country has been a challenging aspect of the pandemic,” commented Sharon E. Bershadsky, Director of The Israel Government Tourist Office UK. “However, we have used this time to take advantage of the quieter streets and put plans in motion that will improve the ‘Israel experience’ for tourists as soon as they can return. From the newly accessible Old City to the impressive hotel openings across the country, we can’t wait to welcome visitors to Israel as soon as possible, so they can enjoy everything that Israel has to offer.”