TEL AVIV, Israel -- The cabinet on Sunday approved a proposal by the foreign and tourism ministers to cancel the mutual tourist visa requirement between Israel and Ukraine
The plan, which has been discussed for a year, is expected to raise the numbers of tourists from the Ukraine.
At the meeting, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov argued for the change, noting that the Tourism Ministry has been promoting tourism in the Ukrainian market for several years.
However, obtaining a tourist visa in a procedure that is both cumbersome and protracted, he said, and prevents the realization of the tourism potential from the Ukraine to Israel.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the visa cancellation and noted that the relevant ministries should work implement it. The visa cancellation will go into effect after an agreement is signed by both countries’ foreign ministers subsequent cabinet ratification.
“Given that with every 100,000 additional tourists, about 4,000 new jobs are created and about $200 million injected into the economy, this is a decision with important economic and social implications for the economy,” said Meseznikov.
“Russian tourism alone has already created thousands of new jobs and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars into the Israeli economy since the cancellation of the visa requirement in October 2008.”
In 2009 73,500 people visited Israel from the Ukraine.
According to Tourism Ministry estimates, the number would reach 200,000 a year once the visa requirement is dropped.
The cancellation of visas for Russians produced a significant increase in incoming tourists, from about 193,500 in 2007 to 402,000 in 2009.
The Tourism Ministry sees countries from the former Soviet Union, in particular Russia and the Ukraine, as having great potential for incoming tourism.
Before the visa requirement from Russia was canceled, organized tour groups from Russia and Eastern Europe were allowed to visit Israel for one day, a ministry spokeswoman explained.
This option still exists today, but now, having been exposed to Israel, it is easier for these day-trippers to come back for a longer visit.
The cabinet decision was greeted warmly by most local tourism operators.
“The cancellation of visa requirements from Ukrainian tourists who wish to visit Israel will contribute to the development of incoming tourism to Israel,” read a statement from the Incoming Tour Operators Association.
“This decision will enable the realization of the Ukrainian tourist potential for travel, vacations and pilgrimages.”
Not everyone was impressed by the decision, however. Joseph Fischer, owner and executive board member of IDB Tourism, said that the decision was at heart a political one and not an economic one and that the prospects of Ukrainian tourism are over-hyped.
“The tourism minister is a man with a clear political agenda,” said Fischer. “As a high-ranking figure in Israel Beiteinu, the minister is committed to his constituents.
By promoting tourism, he is actually assisting Ukrainian immigrants to Israel to go home on visits without having to pay for visas.”
Fisher said that Ukraine, which was hard hit by the global economic crisis, is not a lucrative market for the Israeli tourism sector and that most of the Ukrainian visitors who come to Israel, do so on day trips, without leaving their money behind in Israeli hotels and shops.
“I would urge the minister to divert his attention to markets which offer quality tourism potential to Israel,” said Fischer.