Israel’s tourism industry needs a Hanukkah miracle

This will be the darkest Hanukkah in decades for Israel’s tourism industry, which has lost almost $4 billion in 2020.

Hotels and attractions remain closed today, but without financial support many will be unable to reopen even when tourists return. This is why the Ogen Group, Israel’s not-for-profit lender, is proudly backing Israeli tourism.

The macroeconomic implications of the collapse of one of Israel’s key industries are severe, but so too are the human implications. Pre-coronavirus, tourism employed a full 6 percent of Israel’s workforce, many of whom have spent much of 2020 furloughed or unemployed.

Most of the business and employees hardest-hit are too small to interest large commercial banks and have not received meaningful compensation from government. Tens of thousands of tour guides, drivers, bed and breakfasts, cleaners, travel agents, falafel stands, and gift shops are all in dire need of help, yet have the hardest time accessing it.

Whether you live in Manhattan or Modiin, the people that make your Israel vacation most meaningful, and use your payment to feed their families, are the same people that will be praying hardest for a miracle this Hanukkah.

While the banks continue to operate much as they did before the pandemic, Ogen has been working on overdrive to change lives and support companies across the country, like Jerusalem Holiday Homes, which rents out vacation apartments and had been a thriving business until planes stopped landing in Ben Gurion. Or Fly Tours, a travel agency in Tayibe whose phones suddenly stopped ringing. So too I.A.M. Transportation, a minibus company with nobody to transport, and the Arazim Hotel in the Galilee, which has had zero occupancy for months.

Ogen has made loans to all of them, with requests for assistance growing by the day.

Ogen was founded thirty years ago as the Israel Free Loan Association, just as Israel welcomed over a million new immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union to fulfill their Zionist dreams. Sadly, dreams don’t pay bills, and the new arrivals didn’t have family wealth to anchor themselves in the land of their forefathers. With financial help from Ogen, they were able to thrive in the Jewish state.

Ogen was born out of necessity and thrives under pressure. To date, we have lent over $400 million in life-changing loans to groups ill-served by the commercial banks, with a 99.3% repayment rate.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, Ogen has lent more than $43 million, almost tripling our previous activity.

Today Ogen lends not just on the basis of donations, but takes in of “impact loans” – money deposited in Ogen, lent to our borrowers, repaid to Ogen, and then returned to the funder.

It’s an effective, low-risk and simple way to keep the lights on in Israel for thousands of businesses that are waiting to welcome you back.

About the Author
Sagi Balasha is CEO of the Ogen Group.
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