Tourism expert to 'Post': Israel sentencing industry to hunger, poverty

The second lockdown is extracting a heavy toll on all forms of tourism – including Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Eilat Ein Sof ‘Peace Project’  promenade as depicted in this simulation. (photo credit: MAYSLITS KASSIF ROYTMAN ARCHITECTS)
Eilat Ein Sof ‘Peace Project’ promenade as depicted in this simulation.
The second lockdown, imposed by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections, is killing the tourist sector, claimed an expert in the field on Monday.
“Israel is sentencing the industry to hunger and poverty, and it’s unclear why a person is able to fly to Greece but not stay in a guest house for a weekend up north,” said Dr. Eran Ketter of Kinneret College to The Jerusalem Post. Ketter was an adviser to the Tourism Ministry for three years and is currently working with the EU Travel Commission. He also wrote several books on the subject of tourism. “I have friends who were tour-guides, one of them installs solar panels now and the other drives a tractor,” he said.
Dr. Eran Ketter from Kinnert College (Credit: Tal Hefetz)
Dr. Eran Ketter from Kinnert College (Credit: Tal Hefetz)
Ketter noted that the pandemic struck after a solid decade of constant growth in the number of tourists coming to Israel, with the last three years seeing 4.5 million visitors per year compared to the previous figure of three million.
“This trend has now stopped,” he said, highlighting the once heavy influx of Christian pilgrims, who usually visited the Holy Land regardless of political turmoil.
Ketter told the Post that this has had a crippling effect on Christian sites of interest in the Holy Land such as the Sea of Galilee Boat (also known as the Jesus Boat). In the Palestinian Authority, the damage is also keenly felt. Haaretz reported on Monday, with roughly half the people who used to work in tourism now working in construction in Israel. In Bethlehem, the Church of Nativity is empty of visitors and all the hotels in that city are now closed.
The situation in Israel’s two main cities – Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – is not much better.
“This August, only 26% hotel capacity was reported in Tel Aviv when compared to 74% last year,” Ketter said, “in Jerusalem it was 23% compared to over 60% last year.”
Ketter points to the losses suffered by museums, which hoped to offer families activities for the holidays, and invested many hours and resources into hiring guides and training them “only to get a lockdown as their holiday present.”
He mentioned that in other countries, such as Thailand and Japan, the state sponsored vacations for the domestic market to help the economy – “and Israel, in the last few months, has a lack of clarity about the future, which is disastrous for tourism,” he said.
People need to plan vacations, and hotel and restaurant owners need to know what they can count on when they decide what to do, he explained.
Once the lockdown is over and people start seeking short term vacations, possibly close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic, they might look for a guide to explain the history of an archaeological site, or a park they visit – and not see anyone there.
One city that has been affected severely by the shutdown is the southern resort town of Eilat. According to Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi, the city has a very low infection rate.
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi (Credit: PR)
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi (Credit: PR)
“It’s a shame the policy decided on was to close everything down and not to arrange for a ‘capsule’ like solution. Such are the decisions now being made in Jerusalem,” he told the Post.
Halevi called on decision makers to “sit together and discuss creative solutions for Eilat tourism.” He also complained of feeling, at times, like a “voice in the wilderness.”
Following the resignation of tourism minister Asaf Zamir, he lauded the Blue and White MK for opening his second office in Eilat (ministers are able to have two offices). In addition, Zamir was able to secure millions of shekels for the ‘Peace Project,’ an innovative new-design of the Eilat beach meant to, in metaphorical terms, spread “from Taba [in Egypt] to Aqaba [in Jordan].”
Halevi expressed his appreciation for incumbent Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, and said he is scheduled to speak with her on Wednesday about boosting tourism at Israel’s southern port.
But until the lockdown is lifted, and the tourism industry slowly gets back on its feet, the situation is unlikely to improve. According to Ketter, “an entire industry, travel agencies and airlines, have now been given a knockout by the state.”