Tour guides skeptical of Tourism Ministry’s latest effort to revive industry

The Tourism Ministry has committed to grant a NIS 25 million budget for guided tours for the general public by hiring qualified tour guides.

 Independent business owners and workers from the tourism sector protest, calling for financial support from the Israeli government, outside the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 13, 2021 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Independent business owners and workers from the tourism sector protest, calling for financial support from the Israeli government, outside the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 13, 2021
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Israel’s tour guides have responded with skepticism to the Tourism Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s latest attempt to reinvigorate the struggling tourism industry.

The ministry has committed to grant a NIS 25 million budget to be used by the authority, which will begin running guided tours for the general public by hiring qualified tour guides. The first stage is set to begin shortly, with a NIS 10 million budget.

Invitations are soon to be sent to tour guides who are eligible and qualified to participate in the program, the ministry said. The tours will take place throughout the week, including on weekends, and will be available in national parks, cities and other notable tourist sites throughout the country.

The plan seems familiar to Geoff Winston, a tour guide based in Zichron Yaakov. He said that it’s similar to a plan rolled out by the government in 2021. “It is a nice idea, and slightly helped out some guides last year,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

He explained that there are a few issues, notably that tour guides registered to tour companies are not considered qualified for the program. “The main problems I've heard about this is that there is a severe limit to the amount of times guides can do it; it is in Hebrew which for some guides is a problem; and [it’s] only for guides with their own private "business" - [so] those who are salaried for a company, like myself, are not eligible.”

Other guides are skeptical about how the budget can make up for the lost salaries of several thousand tour guides across the country. According to estimates from those within the industry, the wage for one tour could be as little as NIS 800. According to Winston, a guide would be lucky to be able to give two tours a month, since they will be spread out among many guides.

Israeli tour guides are seen protesting outside the Knesset as low tourism and no government benefits puts them in crisis, on July 6, 2021. (credit: ZEV STUB)Israeli tour guides are seen protesting outside the Knesset as low tourism and no government benefits puts them in crisis, on July 6, 2021. (credit: ZEV STUB)

“It’s a shame that budgets aren’t also being granted to tourism associations around the country that employ guides,” said tour guide Margaret Lev in response to the news. “The money here is, in fact, moving from the pocket of the government to the pocket of a government body.”

There has been discussion among tour guides in the industry to pass on this feedback, in the hope that some change can be made; so far, it seems as though this is merely the beginning of the mission to rehabilitate the tourism industry.

“This is the first step towards the tour guides’ return to employment – something that has not happened for nearly two years,” said Ganit Peleg, chairwoman of the Israel Tour Guides Association.

“I would like to call on other bodies and government ministries to come and open a direct channel of employment for as many tour guides as possible to integrate them into guiding. In this way, they can once again earn their daily bread, in the scope and wage that we knew before the outbreak of the pandemic.”