Birthright, Masa youth trip cancellations to cost Israeli economy $200 million

In light of the current crisis, trips for some 60,000 Jewish youths scheduled for this year’s spring and summer were canceled.

By Shahar Ilan, Calcalist

Due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, Israel is expected to lose two-thirds of the $300 million annual income brought in by its heritage tourism industry. This sum excluded revenue from flights.

The heritage tourism industry, which includes organizations such as Birthright Israel, also known as Taglit, and the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Masa Israel Journey, brings some 80,000 Jewish teens and young adults from around the world to Israel every year, for trips, internships, and volunteer work.

Together with philanthropic organizations, the Israeli government funds many of the organizations and programs offering these trips, as it sees them as a means to strengthen its message among global Jewish populations.

In light of the current crisis, trips for some 60,000 Jewish youths scheduled for this year’s spring and summer were canceled. These include programs by Birthright, Masa, and Jewish schools and youth movements. There is still uncertainty surrounding trips scheduled for the winter season, starting October.

Three weeks ago, Israel’s Ministry of Interior approved special visas to people attending Masa’s long term programs in Israel. The visas will allow both new participants and participants that returned to their country before the end of their original program due to Covid-19, to enter the country.

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According to the visas’ terms, these travelers will not be exempt from the 14-day mandatory quarantine upon entering the country. Masa plans to hold online activities on Zoom, including Hebrew classes and educational seminars, during this period and reports high demand for its winter program, despite the limitations.

The Israel Experience – Educational Tourism Services Ltd., responsible for organizing many of the heritage trips to Israel, counting Taglit and Masa among its clients, lost $40 million in revenue in the past four months, according to Director General Amos Hermon.

Since the beginning of the crisis, The Israel Experience put 75 percent of its employees on unpaid leave, Hermon told Calcalist, adding that without government intervention, the industry might collapse and fail to get itself ready in time for the winter season.

The financial uncertainty in the industry is also affected by a decline in philanthropic donations that are now being diverted to urgent social assistance community programs.

Currently, some 4,000 participants of Masa and The Israel Experience’s long term programs who arrived in Israel before the crisis, chose to stay in the country.