Kochi: The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas could adversely impact travel plans from Kerala to the Middle East for weeks altogether. For long, numerous visitors from the state used to visit Israel as part of religious pilgrimage, educational tours, visits to learn hi-tech agricultural practices, and business trips. The fierce escalation of the fighting since last week means such travels, often done with the assistance of tour operators, local tour groups, or own capacity, can’t be undertaken at least for weeks altogether.
Usually, the maximum number of travellers from the state visit Israel during the three-month-long season that starts in October. Now they hope to resume the explorations by November end, or early December if the conflict ceases and some normalcy returns by then. Many tour operators have already started accepting bookings under the tour package titled ‘Christmas in Bethlehem. Around 10,000 visitors from the state travel to Israel every year.
Recently, in a note sent to local tour agencies, Israel's Ministry of Tourism asked to avoid trips, reported Reuters. The country indicated it could be planning a ground assault on Gaza in response to Palestinian militant group Hamas' weekend attack. Driven by historical tours to places like Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the West Bank, as well as beach holidays in Tel Aviv, tourism in Israel makes up around 3.6% of total employment, according to OECD data.
A number of tour groups around Israel called off their planned events this weekend and in the coming days and have offered refunds for future tours to customers. Tourists stuck in the country have sought to book flights out of Israel, with the Swiss and Icelandic governments organizing special flights out of the country for their citizens.
(With inputs from Reuters)