Tourism booms as Israelis forced into staycations

Crowding on Israel's beaches  / Photo: Amir Cohen Reuters , Reuters
Crowding on Israel's beaches / Photo: Amir Cohen Reuters , Reuters

There is no room at the inn as Eilat and the Galilee benefit from closed skies but Tel Aviv and Jerusalem struggle to attract Israeli guests.

Israel's hotels are not overly concerned about Israel's closed skies keeping away foreign tourists as domestic tourism is filling the vaccum. Rural retreats and hotels in the north and south, which anyway rely on domestic tourism, are currently at full occupancy, while hotels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv must fight harder to persuade Israelis to take their staycations there.

"I don't feel threatened by the opening of the skies," says Haim Ohayon, one of the owners of the Galilon Hotel on the outskirts of Yesod Hama'ale in the Upper Galilee. He says in July and August the hotel is enjoying full occupancy. "There are bookings for the Jewish holidays," he adds, "but at this stage we haven't yet reached 100%." He says prices are the same as last year due to high demand, "Despite the investment in higher staffing costs to implement the purple badge (Covid-19 health and safety requirements)."

Isrotel VP marketing and sales Nahum Kara is also not overly concerned about the opening of the skies. "During the Jewish holidays we are always full and so it will be this year. Even when there are flights abroad, Israelis still come for vacations. We'll feel a difference in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem when on these dates we usually have foreign tourists. We'll try to fill the hotels there with Israelis."

Kara continues, "We cut prices by 20% in order to get back to work but because of the traffic we have adjusted prices because the supply and demand graph has not changed. Those who paid for their August vacation in June paid less and those who book their stay now for the Jewish holidays will also pay less."

The slower pace of recovery for hotels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv compared with Eilat explains why only 63% of those hotels, who closed their doors in March when the Covid-19 pandemic broke, have reopened. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, hotels have had to change their approach and attempt to lure Israeli guests away from Eilat.

Brown Hotels for example has launched pop-up hotels which try to transform their city hotels into family hotels with attractions for children. Brown VP marketing Yael Biderman said, "We are beginning to see interest in the Jewish holidays. We believe that with special offers and activities, the hotels will fill up. It won't be easy and we certainly won't have the level of occupancy resembling previous years, especially from incoming tourism"

One Tel Aviv hotelier who preferred to stay anonymous said, "The hotels in the city are far from full for the Jewish holidays. Even in August it has been difficult to fill up. We are full at weekends but occupancy is low in the middle of the week."

Atlas Hotels managing director Danny Lipman also doesn't see business picking up for the Jewish holidays. "We are still waiting. However, we are already identifying a changing trend in August. Guests are booking two or three weeks in advance and not at the last moment."

Demand for the different cities naturally effects prices. Eshet Tours VP marketing and sales Shirley Cohen-Orkaby said, "The price of a vacation in Eilat can be 50%-60% more expensive than 2019, while in contrast the price of a vacation in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem has gone down by a similar percentage"

Regarding the Jewish holidays she said, "There are less bookings than last year with Israelis sitting on the fence and waiting closer to the date of the vacation before booking hotels in Israel, and the uncertainty about whether the skies will reopen is playing a part in this. But even if the skies do reopen, travel overseas won't be so strong this year, so we expect that prices for a vacation in Israel will be more expensive compared with last year."

A representative for Fattal hotels told "Globes" "There is a flood of enquiries about vacations for the Jewish holidays but still not so many bookings."

In the age of Covid-19, many hotels in northern Israel have a built-in advantage with rooms set well apart and less likelihood of crowding. The Travelers Hotel chain in the Galilee is already fully booked for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana). The chain's CEO Bat Chen Yeshua said that there are a high number of cancelations but demand is so high that the hotels have no problems maintaining 100% occupancy and booking are full through October.

Israel's rural retreats are also hoping that Israel's skies will remain closed. According Eretz Hagalil Tourist Association CEO Dorit Elmaliach, "The past few months have been a blessing for tourism in the Galilee and its tourist attractions. Ahead of the Jewish New Year there is also high demand for vacations in the Upper Galilee. Occupancy is already 80% - similar to previous years and this has been an ongoing trend regardless of the coronavirus. It's already difficult for a family to find a room for the Jewish New Year but there are some places left as well as camping and guest room options.

Dubi Benairi, CEO of the Pastoral Hotel in Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Upper Galilee said, "For the Jewish New Year we are already full. The price remains the same as last year NIS 2,300 per couple half board. Hotels in the Upper Galilee have always been full for the Jewish holidays. This year too, despite the coronavirus (and perhaps because of it) demand has strengthened and occupancy was full three months before the Jewish New Year."

There is also no room at the inn at Ein Gev on the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret, at Ein Zivan on the Golan Heights and Hagoshrim in the Upper Galilee as well as in southern Israel. Meirav Amit from the mid-Arava tourism association said there is already 100% occupancy in the region's larger accommodation but there are still rooms to be found in the smaller guest houses.

Because of the fluid situation in the age of Covid-19, most hotels have very flexible cancelation policies. At Isrotel until the end of 2020, a full refund is guaranteed for cancelations up to four days before the date of the booking. Brown Hotels will refund cancelations up to 48 hours before the booking and Atlas Hotels up to 24 hours. Galilee Development Authority tourism and culture director Gila Yakobi Gurwitz says that typically hotels and guest houses in the north will allow booking to be cancelled, ranging from two weeks to 24 hours before the date of the vacation. Many hotels report that cancelled booking are immediately snapped up by people on the waiting list.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on August 9, 2020 © Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020 .

Crowding on Israel's beaches  / Photo: Amir Cohen Reuters , Reuters
Crowding on Israel's beaches / Photo: Amir Cohen Reuters , Reuters
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