Israeli Ministers Back Easing of Rules for Tour Guides

Local groups will no longer be required to hire licensed guide

Tourists look at a mobile phone as they stand at an observation point overlooking the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old City December 10, 2017. Picture taken December 10, 2017.
REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israeli tour groups here will no longer have to be led by a licensed guide but foreign tour groups will still be required to have one, under amendments to the Tourism Services Law approved by the Ministerial Legislative Committee on Sunday.

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The amendments, which now go to the Knesset for two more votes before they become law, are aimed at easing the rules governing tourism services and bring them into line with changes in the industry since the law was first legislated in 1976, said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who sponsored the amendments.

“The records that are being broken this year in tourism to Israel demand that we improve the quality of our tourism product,” he said.

One of the biggest changes has been the rise of highly specialized tours, for instance ones focusing on local cuisine or historic neighborhoods. These kinds of tours are typically led by someone with specialized knowledge rather than a licensed tour guide – but technically these guides have been working in violation of the law.

Incoming tour groups will still be required to retain an authorized guide as will groups comprising Israelis organized by travel agencies. Guides employed by sites will also have to be licensed. However, for foreign tourists the law will continue to exempt groups led by a clergyman or groups speaking an unusual language.

In addition, guides will now have to renew their licenses only once every five years, subject to a fee, instead of annually. The amendments also authorize the Tourism Ministry to form an ethics committee entitled to take away licenses from violators or guides who have been convicted of crimes. The ministry will also be authorized to inspect tourism-related businesses and impose fines.