by Ben Sales
(JTA) — Israel will be reopening its gates to fully vaccinated tour groups on May 23.
The Jewish state hopes to allow individual vaccinated tourists by early July, a source in its Tourism Ministry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Israel has vaccinated most of its own population, and largely reopened public and recreational spaces, while seeing the number of COVID cases plummet.
“It is time that Israel’s unique advantage as a safe and healthy country start to assist it in recovering from the economic crisis, and not only serve other countries’ economies,” Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said in a statement. “Only opening the skies for international tourism will truly revive the tourism industry, including restaurants, hotels, sites, tour guides, buses and others looking to work and provide for their families.”
The reopening to tourists will happen in three stages: Beginning on May 23, the country will let in a small number of tour groups, about 10 to 20 a day, led by licensed tour providers. Tourists will still need to test for COVID before the flight, and test for antibodies upon arrival.
A few weeks after May 23, if case numbers remain low, the number of tour groups allowed in per day will rise. Israel then hopes to reopen to individuals and families who are vaccinated.
In 2019, some 4.55 million tourists visited Israel, and the country’s tourism industry employed some 200,000 people, according to the ministry. But Israel closed nearly all entry to foreigners with the onset of the pandemic, and shut down its main airport completely earlier this year due to rising case numbers.