Strong demand, fears as Israel's B&Bs reopen

Vacation rentals, often called zimmers (bed and breakfasts) in Israel, were given permission to reopen for nuclear families only, not groups.

Villa Maksim Behosen, in the Western Galilee village of Hosen. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Villa Maksim Behosen, in the Western Galilee village of Hosen.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Israel’s vacation villas and bed-and-breakfasts resume business after more than a month of closure, owners say reservations have started coming in, but uncertainty clouds all future plans.
On Sunday, vacation rentals or bed-and-breakfasts, often called tzimmers in Israel, were given permission to reopen for nuclear families only, not groups, in Israel’s first steps exiting out of the lockdown it has imposed since mid-December.
Ilana Alony, whose Allove group runs the VillaLand and ZimmerLand booking websites in Israel, said her sites have seen a big increase in demand in the past few days. “Israeli families can’t take vacations abroad due to the pandemic, so they have nowhere to go except places like the Galilee. There is high demand, but there are still plenty of places available. Owners are investing in making sure their places are safe and hygienic, and everyone we work with understands that it is a necessity to offer full refunds in case of cancellations due to lockdown or quarantine.”
Eliza Shloush, who owns Villa Maksim Behosen, in the Western Galilee village of Hosen, agreed.
“We are getting more phone calls since the lockdown ended, and we are full for the weekend,” she said. “We are pretty optimistic for the coming weeks. We hope this will continue.”
The past year has been frustrating for Shloush.
“Our main income is this one villa – we don’t have a group of tzimmers like others do,” she said. “The Passover holiday is coming up soon, and we really hope it won’t be under lockdown as it was last year.”
Shloush, like other owners we spoke with, offers full refunds in the case of a lockdown or a family quarantine, but in cases where one or two people are quarantined, she might ask them to try to work it out. “We obviously try to be as understanding as possible, but we also try to communicate to the guests that we are trying to cover ourselves as much as possible. It’s a complicated situation.”
“I understand that lockdowns are needed for health and safety, but tzimmers like ours are for family vacations, not large groups. I hope the government will take that into consideration if they plan another lockdown.”
Other owners reported similar experiences.
“We are getting phone calls, and we are trying to maintain the feeling of a fresh start,” said Ilana Biton, who runs the Sol De Galilea villa in Peki’in in the Upper Galilee. “The past few months have been very hard, and we hope there won’t be closures for Purim and Passover.”
The Allove group reported last month that 2020 was a good year for the local tzimmer market, due to the fact that Israelis weren’t vacationing abroad. Demand more than doubled in 2020, despite the fact that 96% of tzimmer bookings came from local tourism, the company said.
Meanwhile, vacation rentals inside cities are still waiting for tourism from abroad to restart.
Tamara Okun, who runs a vacation apartment in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, said the current period has been difficult.
“People still don’t know if they can make plans for Passover,” she said. “We are getting calls for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, which are eight months away, but the first thing people ask is about our refund policies. We hope the worst is behind us, but it’s all in God’s hands.”