Can’t wait to visit Israel as a tourist for the first time? Or maybe you were a tourist here already. Either way, allow me to share with you what is happening in Israeli tourism.
As we all know, Corona has hit our industry very hard. As of this writing, planes are no longer bringing tourists to Israel. The only passengers currently flying into Israel are returning Israelis or those who receive special permission to come. Those that arrive are led into quarantine for 14 days. Cruise ships are no longer visiting our ports. The dynamic industry that I have been a part of for the last 25 years has come to a virtual standstill. This has been the situation since March. Unfortunately, I do not see this changing in the near future. One can only hope.
Tour guides like myself are trying to cope with this situation in a variety of ways. We are all out of work. For many of us, tourism has been our primary source of livelihood. We thrive when we lead tours.
We have been through similar situations in the past. However, even when rockets flew, we knew that this difficult period would come to an end sooner than later. When the violence subsided, the tourists returned. There was always the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, that light is harder to see.
I am privileged to be part of a great group of people. Tour guides are the most optimistic and dynamic people that I know. Perhaps that’s why I became one. Even in the face of uncertainty, loss of livelihood, etc many of us are optimistic. We know that the day will come hopefully soon when the tourists will return.
In the meantime, we are asking for government help. We are not staging loud, violent demonstrations. Instead, we are trying to meet with as many members of the Knesset as possible. We want to offer to work with them on solutions, not demands.
I belong to a group called Moreshet Derech: MDTGU- the tour guides union for those working in incoming tourism. About one month ago a few members decided to go on a hunger strike. They set up a tent near the Knesset. Their hope is that as people walk by, they will stop, meet, and listen. I can tell you that this method seems to be working. Many members of parliament and/or their staff have stopped by the tent. They listen, ask questions. Some promise to help, others listen and walk on. As a result, our leadership has been able to sit and meet with almost everyone in the political realm. They have been invited to present our situation to finance committee meetings and more. I took part in this tent group this morning for a few hours. It was an eye-opener.
We are not asking for or demanding cash handouts. We realize that there is only so much money in the communal pot. We also realize that the govt is not to blame for the corona plague. We would like to work with the govt and see if we can build a future while waiting for the tourists to return.
We offer ourselves as teachers to the next generation. We ask the govt to create a format that would allow us to work in schools and other institutions. We have vast experience in educating tourists from all over the world about Israel. We ask to be allowed to put this experience to work with local tourists. For example, we could go into classes and lead students of all ages on local tours using experiential learning. This would allow students to experience Israel in the language that they are studying.
We ask to be given access and support towards continuing education or vocational programs. The way things are going today, many of us will need to acquire another profession or vocation, so that we will be able to support our families. Some of us may find that we wish to continue our own education and pursue that degree that we always wanted to pursue, but never had the time to finish. We are always looking to enhance our knowledge base, both for our tourist’s benefit as well as our own.
We feel it is in the country’s’ benefit to help us in these endeavors.
This way is better than just asking for a handout. This is better than waiting for money to fall out of the govt coffers. Instead, this would allow us to continue to be productive members of society. We have always been there for our tourists and for the State of Israel. Now we are asking for the State to help us out in our time of need. We hope that the State will look at our proposals and see that together we can help each other in a creative way.
In the end, we will all benefit.