The first flight carrying Israeli tourists to the United Arab Emirates landed November 8 at Dubai international Airport.
Five weeks later, roughly 50,000 Israelis had been to the UAE, according to Israeli Tourism Minister Orit Farkash Hacohen.
Those numbers will likely skyrocket once visa-free travel goes into effect by January, she remarked at a press conference on December 16.
“Israelis are very adventurous and are the first to go see any new attraction,” she said.
Thousands of Israelis celebrated Hanukkah in the glittering capital city of Dubai this year, as the Abraham Accords opened the UAE to Israeli passport holders for the first time in history.
Flydubai added a third daily direct flight to Dubai International Airport from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion on December 10 due to high demand. El Al offers 14 flights per week.
“By January we hope to have 25 weekly flights on Etihad, Arkia, Israir, El Al and Flydubai,” said Farkash Cohen. “The more the merrier.”
While Israelis are indeed eager to visit a brand-new destination just three hours away, part of the reason for the crowds lately at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport is that the UAE is one of just three countries Israelis may visit without quarantining there or upon return as of now (the others are Seychelles and Rwanda).
Israeli tourists to the UAE must take a PCR test within 96 hours of departure and another upon arrival in Dubai and must complete a health declaration form at both ends.
Still, the Israeli Health Ministry’s concern that the hordes of travelers may cause a spike in Covid-19 cases seems warranted – four passengers on a flight from Dubai that landed back in Israel on December 9 tested positive for coronavirus, sending about 250 people into quarantine at home, while some Israelis have tested positive on arrival in Dubai and spent their vacation in quarantine there.
For the time being, the travel is in one direction only. Israel is not allowing any non-citizens into the country except for special exceptions.
However, said Farkash Cohen, “Our hope is to get 100,000 tourists per year from the Emirates when, with God’s help, we are over the Covid-19 problem. We are looking to the UAE as a significant source of tourism.”
She and her Emirati counterpart have drafted a memorandum of understanding regarding “cooperation in a long list of aspects including mutual marketing packages and conferences.”
In preparation for the day when Israel will open to foreign tourists, “We are updating and renewing our Arabic website for tourists from the Gulf region to be approachable and attractive,” she added.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation recently released Arabic versions of the information page, guide, and the map distributed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most popular tourist sites in Israel.