Rise in overseas holiday bookings and prices, with planned relaxation of travel rules

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After the Health Ministry this week recommended easing COVID-19 travel regulations, Israelis rushed to book vacations abroad after two years of airport restrictions.

The most important change that should be approved by the government is the end of quarantine for unvaccinated children traveling abroad.

Currently, restrictions require unvaccinated children returning to Israel to be quarantined for five days. If the recommendations are approved, they will be subject to the same restrictions as vaccinated children and adults and will instead be tested at Ben Gurion Airport upon landing and remain in quarantine for up to 24 hours.

Travel agencies said on Thursday they had seen a massive increase in interest after the announcement and were struggling to keep up with demand.

El Al recruited cabin crew to help staff phone lines as Israelis rushed to book vacations abroad.

“We went from 5,000 calls a day to 10,000,” said Oren Cohen Butansky, vice president of customer service at El Al.

The departures hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on January 4, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

“It’s a chance to increase [work] hours in addition to helping the customer service center,” Dalia, a member of the airline’s cabin crew, told Channel 12 news.

Meanwhile, financial newspaper The Marker reported that increased demand for overseas holidays had driven prices higher.

The site said the cost of flights and hotel rooms had jumped since the start of the year, and while prices weren’t yet at the levels seen in 2019, they needed to rise further.

“Unequivocally, February looks much better than January. Every day the data is increasing, and it’s still winter numbers, which means we haven’t reached the peak period yet,” Gulliver Group CEO Ziv Rosen told The Marker.

“The best places for bookings next month are New York, London, Georgia, Turkey and Spain. Dubai also had bookings, but they’ve slowed down a bit due to security concerns,” Rosen said, referring to disagreements between the Shin Bet and UAE authorities over airport arrangements.

In addition to the potential lifting of quarantine for unvaccinated children, the Health Ministry also recommended on Wednesday rescinding the requirement for returning travelers to present a COVID test at the airport before boarding a flight to Israel, although testing at Ben Gurion after landing will remain a requirement for all.

A medical technician tests a traveler for COVID-19 at Ben Gurion Airport, June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel currently requires returning travelers to test themselves twice – before boarding a plane to Israel and again upon landing.

Inbound travel is also expected to see an increase after the ministry said unvaccinated non-Israeli children under the age of 12 should be allowed entry if accompanied by vaccinated parents and be required to self-isolate until that they receive a negative test result. Unvaccinated non-Israelis over the age of 12 still should not be allowed to enter the country, the ministry said.

The ban on unvaccinated children has been a factor in the stagnation of inbound tourism to Israel, with many families unable to vacation in the country with young children.

All recommendations from the Ministry of Health are still subject to government approval.

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