Craig Lebrau
Craig Lebrau

Acting Together To Act Fast

Israel joins the EU Digital Covid Certificate to find mutual benefit with EU countries to spur on international tourism.

The world is still reeling from the after-effects of an unbelievably lethal pandemic. As Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina J. Mohammed, said, “We are facing a human crisis unlike any we have experienced, and our social fabric and cohesion is under stress.”

Among the worst affected by this crisis is the global travel and tourism industry, due to countries closing their borders to prevent people from coming in and from leaving. Infact, a recent UNCTAD report stated that the pandemic-related crash in international tourism could result in over $4 trillion loss to global GDP for 2020 and 2021. This anticipated impact is even more tragic when viewed against the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) record of global tourism in the immediate pre-pandemic era of 2019, which amounted to 10% of the world’s GDP.

Moreover, many countries, including Israel, saw record-breaking tourist arrivals in 2019. For instance, Israel recorded an incredible 4.55 million tourist arrivals in 2019, which fell disastrously in 2020, by at least 81%, with a paltry 850,000 tourist arrivals,  due to pandemic lockdowns, travel restrictions and airport closures.

However, with the global vaccination roll-out which began in early 2021, most countries slowly opened up their borders to the outside world, thus awakening the slumbering tourism industry. According to UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, approximately 54 million tourists travelled globally in July 2021, which is 67% lower than in July 2019, but denotes the highest number of tourists after April 2020. This stirring of global tourism is attributed to global vaccination programs and reopened international borders.

In addition to these crucial factors, the EU decided to set a global standard for safe international travel with the EU Digital Covid Certificate  issued to EU citizens and residents from July 2021. Over 591 million certificates have been generated so far, and the report on the EU Digital Covid Certificate and its implementation across the EU, was adopted by the European Commission recently.

The certificate includes information on Covid-19 vaccinations taken, any Covid tests done and recovery information, if any. The aim of this is to set a global safety standard for travel, and, so far, this is the only international system available to facilitate safe travel across international borders.

Moreover, the fact that 43 countries across four continents are connected to this system, with more to follow in the weeks and months ahead, is a clear indication of the success of the project.

Among the significant number of countries that recently joined the EU Digital Covid Certificate program, is Israel. According to Israel’s Health and Foreign Ministries, the country’s collaboration with the EU will result in easier inbound and outbound tourism for Israel. Likewise, by joining the EU program, Israelis will be able to engage with the EU’s green pass, which allows people access to restaurants, cultural centers, and different public institutions according to the coronavirus guidelines of individual countries. On the other hand, it creates the basis for opening up Israel’s tourism sector to European tourists.

As Israeli Health Minister, Nitzan Horowitz said, “This is a big step in our effort to make it easier for the public to allow a routine of life alongside the coronavirus. Europe recognizes Israel’s vaccination certificate and we recognize the vaccination certificates from European countries. This will allow significant relief for aviation, tourism and economic relations.”

As Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid said, “The ability to travel and visit places across the world is the foundation of relations between peoples and states. Mutual recognition … constitutes a major step toward the normalization of travel and tourism ties between Israel and the EU.”

Besides, joining this program has taken away the necessity of Israel launching a similar international program. For instance, Israel was having dialogues with different countries over the past year, to form bilateral agreements, until multilateral programs such as the EU program was set up.

Yet, despite this positive backdrop for international travel, backed by digitalisation, there is still nervousness and lurking fears of dealing with the unvaccinated. For instance, recently, France and Switzerland imposed restrictions on the entry of unvaccinated Israeli citizens to their countries, while Holland is requiring all Israelis arriving at their border to quarantine, which is not practical for most leisure travelers.

In the meantime, Israel too has its own conditions for safe tourism. Although Israel recently announced opening its borders to some foreign tourists ahead of the holiday season, the condition is that individual tourists who have received their 2nd Covid jab only can enter, but also only if their second shot is less than 6 months old.

From a more macro viewpoint, there are subtle changes in the offing for Israelis travelling to the Schengen Area, which is an area that includes 26 European countries that have given up the need for passports and other types of border control at their mutual borders. Currently, Israel is among 60 countries in the world whose citizens have the privilege of visiting the Schengen Area visa-free. This will change somewhat in late 2022, when the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) comes into being. An ETIAS application from Israel will not be for a visa, but it will give specific Schengen databases the ability to cross-check information provided by Israeli travelers, for the purpose of ensuring border safety within the Schengen area.

Meanwhile, as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said about the EU Digital Covid Certificate, in her 2021 State of the Union address, “When we act together, we are able to act fast.”

About the Author
Craig Lebrau is the Director of Cato Media. A former programmer, Craig is interested in Israel's startup ecosystem and aims to share his insights learnt from expanding to and managing business in Israel.
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