Skift Take

Tour operators are largely supportive of destinations easing travel curbs since most of them already require their own clients to be vaccinated. That doesn't mean they're getting complacent in the fight against Covid as many countries are still struggling with a surge in cases.

Destinations worldwide eased travel curbs in recent weeks, some such as France and Italy waiving requirements for vaccinated visitors to take Covid tests prior to their arrival.

But Israel has gone a step further as of last week, the country reopened to unvaccinated overseas visitors while only requiring all incoming arrivals to pass two PCR tests — one prior to departing their home country and one upon arrival.

Several tour operators active in Israel expressed support for the actions, and company executives believe that measures the country is taking can be replicated in destinations that will further ease travel curbs.

“Israel is a good example of reopening with tighter restrictions and then reducing them over time as the situation warranted,” said Matt Berna, the North American managing director for Intrepid Travel, which will resume trips to the country later this month after not operating there last year.

Israel had reopened to vaccinated overseas visitors last November subject to a pre- and post-flight PCR tests and a 24-hour quarantine in a hotel, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cited steadily declining Covid rates in the country as the reason the government decided to ease travel curbs. Border closures enacted in March 2020 had cost the Israeli economy more than $7 billion.

But while Israel also announced last month it would let its Green Passa vaccine passport that people in Israel were required to display in order to enter numerous public places — expire on March 1, its authorities have maintained one notable preventative Covid measure: the country’s indoor mask mandate. That’s something that Steve Born, the chief marketing officer for the Globus family of brands, strongly supports.

“(The mask mandate) has not been a challenge for us as we continue to recommend masks indoors and in any case where social distancing isn’t feasible,” said Born, whose company has seven trips scheduled to Israel for the rest of 2022.

Israel has also expedited PCR testing, which one tour operator executive said would help such companies overcome a hurdle the country’s reopening had presented such companies — the 24-hour wait for results. Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main gateway, started offering faster testing last month that can provide results in as shortly as three hours.

“The process is efficient today and the timing hasn’t been a challenge,” Born said.

Israel, which requires all overseas visitors to have a health insurance policy that covers treatment for Covid, is also providing assistance to international travelers who test positive upon arriving in the country. Born said, in such a scenario, Globus would turn to the Ministry of Health and defer to its guidelines for handling the situation. Globus would arrange accommodation for any guests testing positive, whom Born added the ministry would provide directions to.

Although Prime Minister Bennett declared the Covid wave in Israel over last month, numerous local experts believe the country’s fight against the pandemic is far from over. So what additional steps can Israel take to help travel companies navigate the ongoing challenges Covid presents? One executive cited a destination she traveled to on vacation recently.

“(We) all have to — not just Israel — do more like Mexico,” said Cheri S. Levitan, the U.S.-based CEO of Kenes Tours, which conducts business-to-business operations in Israel, explaining that the hotels in Mexico were conducing PCR tests at no charge for U.S. guests within 24 hours of their flight home, a requirement for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Israel does not require overseas visitors to take additional PCR tests while they’re actually traveling in the country.

“Everyone has to be a little more understanding about vaccination status and making provisions,” she said, citing the possibility of a positive Covid test that could potentially force a traveler to isolate for several days.

But despite expressing concerns about a possible pushback from her company’s suppliers if clients bring unvaccinated travelers to Israel, Levitan is confident Israel made the right decision in easing travel curbs.

“I don’t believe they would make this change unless they were very fully confident that they could do so and still protect their citizens,” she said.

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Tags: covid-19, israel, reopening, reopening travel, tour operators, travel restrictions, vaccines

Photo credit: The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem EvgeniT / Pixabay