Corona hit our shores in March 2020. That was the last time any tour guides worked. Since then we have been waiting. Waiting for Corona to subside. Waiting for the skies to reopen, and bring tourists to our shores.
We thought the wait was over. We watched as our government allowed fellow Israelis who had been vaccinated in Israel to travel abroad and return. We watched as the government established special categories for those non-Israelis who would be allowed to enter the country. Strict rules would be applied, and only those who met the “exception criteria” would be allowed to enter. The authorities then announced that as of June 2021, specific tourist groups would be allowed in, on a trial basis, under special conditions. They then announced that as of July 2021, any vaccinated tourist would be allowed to enter Israel.
We are still waiting…
In the meantime, those of us who work in Incoming Tourism remain in limbo. Throughout this difficult period, many guides have received unemployment payments. Independent tour guides like myself have received bi-monthly grants. Although these monies were not as much as we would normally earn, they did help. We are thankful for what we have received till now, and hope it continues.
There is a new government in Israel, with a new Finance minister. Mr. Lieberman has his own ideas of how the country should be spending its money or not. He has decided that everyone needs to go back to work. And so he has put a stop to the benefits that we have received till now.
This might seem to be a good idea. Perhaps the rest of the country and our economy are ready for this. However for us to go back to work, tourists need to be allowed in! We would be very happy to go back to work. None of us want to receive unemployment or special grants. We would much rather be out there guiding tourists! That is what we know, what we were educated and trained for. We love what we do!
We see ourselves as representatives of the State of Israel, to our tourists. As we tour, we constantly teach and explain to our tourists what makes this country so great! We present the real face of the country to the tourists. We show them the sites while teaching and exposing them to history, culture, and more. We introduce them to the realities of living here, help them experience and understand what Israel is all about, and we do it all with a smile!
Over the past year, we have done our utmost to bring our situation to the relevant authorities. We erected a “Tour Guide Protest Tent” near the Knesset, just opposite the Finance Ministry. Everyone who walked by our protest tent was informed and educated about our situation. We’ve had guides who’ve gone on a hunger strike, while others met with many Parliamentarians, their assistants, and professional staff from all across the spectrum. We believe in working together with the authorities. We have held many meetings with the various ministries and have offered the following suggestions.
1: Allow vaccinated tourists from “green countries” to visit Israel.
2: A tourist can be as few as one person, and as many as 20 on a bus, (or whatever number the Health Ministry will allow).
3: All tourists (1 or more) will be a “group” and will be accompanied by a Licensed Tour Guide.
4: The Tour Guide will be responsible for this “group” at all times. They will ensure that the group remains corona-free as they tour. If health issues arise, the tour guide will be right there to manage things as needed.
5: The Tour Guide will make sure that the hotels and sites that they visit are aware that a group from abroad will be coming to them, and can plan their visit/and or stay accordingly.
Sounds great, right? We have the means and experience to make this work. Independent Tour guides can drive small groups of tourists in our Eshkol Tour Vehicles, while special tour busses together with a licensed tour guide are available for larger groups. We would be able to show them the country and keep everyone corona free.
We would be able to work, as well as provide work for many others. Bus drivers, shop owners, restaurants, and hotels are ready to welcome us with open arms. Tourists spend money, greatly contributing to our economy.
We would no longer need unemployment monies or grants. It would be a win-win situation for all.
Until the government agrees to allow tourists in, we will continue to protest and demand that they continue the unemployments and grants for us. At the same time we will continue to meet with the various authorities to prevail upon them to open the skies and let tourists in.
We are Ready!