A small group of theology students from the Midwest received a special welcome as they landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel late last week. They were the first group of tourists since Israel closed its borders last year due to COVID-19. More groups are expected to arrive in the coming weeks as the Holy Land opens for tourism once again.
The group of about a dozen students from Prince of Peace Church in Missouri received a personal escort from Israel's Tourism Minister through immigrations and the mandated protocol of coronavirus testing for international travelers.
"Israel is healthy and vaccinated. Restaurants, hotels, concerts, markets, and sporting venues: everything is open," Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Minister of Tourism, told the group. "Israel is an attractive destination, with unparalleled historic and religious sites sacred to three religions, vibrant cities, amazing food, and warm people. I am sure you will enjoy it all."
The Ministries of Tourism and Health are welcoming select groups like the one from Prince of Peace over the coming weeks as part of a pilot program to bring tourists back to Israel in a safe way, as variants of COVID-19 persist around the globe.
Israel has vaccinated an estimated 85 percent of its adult population, and new cases of COVID are almost nonexistent. On June 1, Israel dropped most of its internal restrictions, allowing businesses and other venues to open again at full capacity, regardless of whether an Israeli is vaccinated, recovered from COVID, or unvaccinated.
And the forecast for tourists once again flowing into the land looks even brighter since the recent ceasefire between Hamas and Israel appears to be holding, and peace has mostly returned to the streets of Jerusalem and other hotspot communities across the land.
"I hope you all enjoy your trip and that you encourage others to come visit Israel when you return home," Farkash-Hacohen told the group before they embarked on their tour.