Tourism was the first sector to be hit hard by Covid-19 and will probably be the last to recover. 95% of Israel's hotels have been closed since early March and tens of thousands of employees have been sent on unpaid leave.
From Sunday the new domestic tourism season will officially restart but until May 16 at least, and probably longer, non-Israeli passport holders are barred from entering Israel. So hotel owners must decide if they want to reopen already, even though occupancy will be low for some weeks to come, or remain closed until visitors are allowed in from abroad and the tourism industry really picks up.
Hotels are also likely to change not only because of Ministry of Health instructions on social distancing but also because guests will be demanding cleanliness and hygiene and will be less concerned about a children's swimming pool and even price. Portugal's tourism authority, for example, has instituted a health and hygiene standard to which hotels must comply. Israel has also spoken about introducing such a standard but for the time being hotels will implement their own independent measures.
The Fattal hotel chain operates 40 hotels around Israel and has kept only one open - Herods in Tel Aviv - throughout the crisis. The chain intends opening four hotel in the first phase - the Leonardo Plazas in Jerusalem, Eilat and Tiberias and Herods Dead Sea. The chain said, "As a responsible company we are in the midst of forming a strategic plan to get back to routine. Any return to routine depends on a broad assistance plan from the government and Ministry of Finance, a plan that has not yet been published."
The Isrotel chain is in no rush to reopen hotels that have been closed as long as the Ministry of Health has not updated instructions but says that the first three hotels to open will be Beresheet in Mitzpe Ramon, Mitzpe Hyamim in the Upper Galilee and the Royal Garden in Eilat. "Isrotel will comply with all the Ministry of Health's cleanliness and hygiene requirements and will itself take on other and stiffer procedures in order to provide guests with security and as long as the coronavirus outbreak lasts, the chain will keep hotels and rooms clean and disinfected.
Both Fattal and Isrotel will be allowing guests to cancel up to 24 hours before any booking without the need to pay a penalty.
Brown Hotels is gearing up to reopen and is even running a TV ad campaign. The chain says it is opening some hotels immediately including the Brown Beach House and Poli House. After that it will reopen the Villa Brown in Jerusalem, Brown TLV and Brown Seaside in Tel Aviv and then Villa Ba'Moshava in Jerusalem.
Brown is offering rooms for NIS 480 per couple per night and says that prices for May and June will 60%-65% cheaper than the corresponding months of 2019.
The Nakash Group plans opening five hotels on May 28 - The Setai Jaffa and Herbert Samuel in Tel Aviv, the Reef in Eilat, Milos Dead Sea and The Setai Sea of Galilee. Nakash says that guest who prefer can have their meals in their rooms.
The Nakash Group like all Israel's hotel chains is offering generous cancellation conditions. The fact is that any hotel that tries to impose penalties on guests who want to cancel after booking, probably need not bother reopening its doors in the near future. By Israeli law hotel bookings can be cancelled for up to 14 days after the booking is made and seven days before the date of the booking. But Israeli hotels understand that they have to be more flexible than this and the Nakash Group for example is allowing cancellations up to 48 hours before the date of the vacation.
The Olive and Rimonim chain are also offering the right to cancel without a penalty for up to 48 hours before the vacation. The chain, which includes seven hotels, some of them with separate ground floor units, is preparing to gradually open up its hotels starting May 15. The chain is also preparing its own stringent 'green standard' for cleanliness and hygiene, which includes the possibility of no contact between staff and guests, who will receive all their services via technological means. Guests will have their temperature taken and all activities will be in open areas. Special offers include a second night for 50% or a third night for free.
There are those who say that reopening too soon can do more harm than good for hotels. Aren't some hotels over-rushing the return to routine?>/i>
"A hotel with 20% occupancy loses more money than a hotel that is closed," explains Israel Hotels Association president Amir Hayek. "Before reopening, the amount of compensation has to be agreed with the government for the months in which the hotels were closed. The plight of the hotels is very hard and even in the best case scenario, we don't see high occupancy, so the assistance is critical. We are in talks with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Tourism and I am optimistic."
Tour operator Eshet Tours president and CEO Ephraim Kramer expects the wave of hotels opening in May to expand. "After Shavuot we will see a second wave of hotels opening in June and then a third wave after Tisha B'Av at the end of July. While there is the 14-day self-isolation requirement for people coming in from abroad, the hotels are relying mainly on domestic tourism. We are receiving a lot of queries from people interested in a vacation. The public is craving to get out on vacation."
For its part the Ministry of Tourism has built an exit plan from the coronavirus, which will allow the tens of thousands of Israelis employed in the sector who are on unpaid leave to get back to work. The plan is based on relaxing restrictions every two weeks. The Ministry of Tourism is formulating a 'purple standard' as exists in other industrial sectors.
From May 3, accommodation with separate entrances to rooms including 'zimmers' (country lodges) will be opened. A further relaxation, two weeks later will be contingent on the number of new coronavirus infections in Israel continuing to fall.
Meitar law firm partner and head of the hotel and leisure practice Adv. Carmit Bar-On said that if a hotel is allowed to open then it is best that it reopen. She said, "Small hotels have an opportunity. Conference halls, dining rooms and fitness rooms in the hotel will be the last to open so that a hotel with 50 rooms can rent them all out to one family, for example. Both in Israel and abroad hotels aren't settling for just the requirements of the Ministry of Health, when there are those who are offering even stricter standards such as the Marriot chain, which is promoting guests a standard above that which is required."
"In the first stage hotel chains need to think about reducing damage and not profitability," Bar-On adds. "Sustainability needs to be set aside. The World Tourism Organization has come out with a slogan 'to return better' with the message to the world of tourism that it is possible to come out of the crisis stronger and better. From this hotel need to prepare adjustments, for example on everything on the topic of friction between people and offer less shared services, less entertainment and more disinfectant and hygiene."
She continues, "There is here coping with a crisis that there has been previously and unfortunately there will be those that can't return to regular operations. The large chains perhaps have reserves but we can assume that some will change hands. Some of the foreign chains who were in the process of entering Israel will prefer reconsidering their plans. Despite everything we will ultimately get back to where we were previously, and on the other hand there will be entrepreneurs that will want to be ready for the recovery stage, which will also arrive when the economy gets going."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 30, 2020
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