Licensed Tour Guides to Lose Exclusivity Under New Israeli Bill

Proposed legislation would allow local groups to hire who they want to lead tours

Tourists observing the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, May 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Proposed changes to Israel’s Tourism Services Law would exempt many organized groups from the need to hire only licensed tour guides, a plan that guides say threatens their livelihood.

Tourism Minster Yariv Levin submitted the amendment to the 1976 law to the Knesset on Wednesday. He said it aims to bring the law in line with the changing conditions of tourism, including the growth of “virtual tour guide” apps and of unlicensed experts who lead group tours.

“The law is 40 years old. Some parts were amended over the years and others are no longer relevant,” Levin said last week. 

His proposal would expand the “hotel” category to include youth hostels, bed and breakfasts and tourist attractions that offer overnight stays, such as Bedouin encampments. That will subject them to additional regulation but also qualify them for government incentives.

The most important change being proposed concerns tour guides. Under the bill, organized tours for foreign tourists would still be required to hire a licensed guide, but Israeli groups would not, unless they were  organized by a travel agency or bus operator.

The law’s backers say the exemption is a response to the already widespread practice of private groups hiring who they want for specialized tours – architects, artists, poets and authors and journalists.

The Tour Guides Association said it is still studying the proposal and plans to cooperate with the Tourism Ministry to amend it before it reaches the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee. Benny Kfir, the organization’s chairman, said the problem wasn’t regulation, which protects tourists, but rather a lack of enforcement. “Sometimes the only qualifications new guides have is that they are celebrities or writers,” he said. Licensed guides must attend a two-year course and pass an exam.

Kfir said the prevalence of unlicensed guides “damages Israel’s image and is even exploited by various groups for anti-Israeli propaganda.” 

Even in cases where licensed guides are usually required, the new law will allow exceptions, for instance guides employed at specific sites who receive in-house training, members of the clergy and people who speak uncommon languages. One concession to licensed guides is that their license periods will be increased to four years, from two.