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Jerusalem’s tourist industry is in dire shape


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J-P Mauro - published on 10/24/21

In spite of increased restrictions due to COVID-19, visiting the empty religious sites offers a unique aesthetic and spiritual experience.

Jerusalem is slowly restarting its tourism industry, but the process has suffered setbacks due to the continued COVID-19 crisis. On September 19, Israel reopened to tourists, but the number of tourists has been scant compared to the annual crowds hosted prior to the pandemic. The situation has become dire for the thousands of Israelis who rely on tourism. 

According to a report from Agenzia Fides, the process of reopening began in May 2021, with a broad vaccination effort. Over the next three months they began a soft reopening that only saw about 2,000 pilgrims visit the country. This is a far cry from the millions that arrived annually for pilgrimages and vacations. 

By the end of August, the country was shut down again due to an influx of the Delta variant. This once again paralyzed the industry, as tourists and pilgrims were forced to stay away. The restrictions lasted for the entire month. 

September reopening

It was not until mid-September that they attempted reopening again, and it’s been slow to improve. One reason for the slow recovery is the standing restrictions placed on all visitors. According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, there are many conditions travelers must contend with to enter Israel. These include only traveling by air, arriving in groups of 5-30 on the same flight, and submitting to COVID-19 testing upon arrival.

Those who wish to visit Israel from a country on their Ministry of Health’s “Red List” are held to even stricter standards. Each traveler from this group must provide proof of vaccination and they must complete an online form and show proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel. Furthermore, they must submit to another PCR test upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport. 

Once the hurdles are passed, visitors must still quarantine themselves for at least one day, which may become longer if one of the group received a positive PCR test. Even if they are all cleared, travel in the country is limited. 

Tourists are also banned from using taxis or public transportation. Instead they must stay with their groups in their designated tour buses under the responsibility of their tour operator. The Latin Patriarchate notes that only tour operators registered with the Ministry of Tourism are currently in operation and these may only operate in East Jerusalem. Palestinian territories, including Bethlehem, are still restricted. 

While these restrictions can be daunting to travelers, it may be a good time to visit Israel. Prices of tours are at an all time low and the current weather conditions are considered ideal. Because there are so few tourists in the country, the sites are empty and offer a unique aesthetic and spiritual experience, especially at religious sites. 

Read more at Ageniza Fides.

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