Israel expects post-COVID tourism recovery this summer

Israeli tourism is expected to post its best performance since 2019 this summer. The lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions should increase the number of outbound and inbound tourists, although Ben Gurion Airport’s pre-pandemic record of about 24 million international passengers is not expected to be surpassed in 2022. In terms of tourist arrivals, Israel is still far from its 2019 peak of around 4.5 million tourists and is estimated to be around 2 million for the current year..

Despite the lower numbers, it’s hard to avoid the images published in the media in recent weeks regarding airport congestion, which raise questions about the ability of Israel’s aviation and tourism infrastructure to cope with the rapid increase in activity.

Currently, the most serious problem facing the Israeli tourism industry is the shortage of labor that exists at the main entry gates of the country, as well as in other professions in the tourism industry.

Ofer Lefler, a spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority, told Al-Monitor that the global aviation industry is in deep crisis and Israel is no exception. Therefore, delays and traffic jams are mainly for departing passengers.

The problem in Israel is more due to a shortage of security personnel, which is relatively high in Israel compared to other countries, Lefleur said. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Israel Airports Authority employed 1,800 security personnel. Today, the number is less than 600. The number of flights should return to what it used to be in the coming months, but increasing the number of security personnel remains a problem. However, the authorities decided to make every possible effort not to cancel flights, which explains the congestion that has occurred in recent days. Adding to the labor shortage, Lefler noted, is the habit of Israeli passengers to take quite a lot of luggage with them when traveling abroad.

Lefleur added: “In 2019, it took a passenger an average of 54 minutes from arriving at the terminal to going through security and entering the duty-free zone. Today it takes 70 minutes. My goal is to cut this time down to less than an hour.”

Joseph Fischer, a prominent travel and aviation expert, agrees that the main problem at the airport is a lack of manpower. He predicts it will take at least 12 months to catch up, largely due to the average profile of Israeli airport security officers. Unlike in other countries, these are mostly young people after military service who take this job for a limited period of time, without a long-term career aspiration.

“The problem is that young people who worked at the airport before the coronavirus pandemic [and were laid off] have since found a new job. They won’t come back because this job at the airport is considered unreliable, and…

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