With fewer anti-COVID restrictions in place in months and over half the population vaccinated against the virus, Israel’s municipalities and hospitality industry are trying to attract local tourists for the Passover holiday that began Saturday night.
“This Passover, we are returning to normalcy, returning all the happiness and joy to the citizens of Jerusalem and of course to the visitors we are expecting to come here,” says Ariela Rejwam, executive director for culture, sports and society in the Jerusalem Municipality.
“We are all extending a warm invitation to all Israeli citizens to come to the capital.”
Klezmer street music will be performed under normal conditions in the city. Last year, the performance took place from trucks as a result of COVID.
The municipality is focusing on family-friendly events, such as children’s shows downtown, age-appropriate events in parks, and street music to attract tourists, as well as events in its 84 buildings that offer cultural entertainment, such as museums.
Ishay Ribo, a celebrated singer-songwriter, will perform in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood. The same neighborhood will also host one of the city’s programs for Mimouna, a Moroccan/Algerian Jewish holiday celebrated on the day after Passover.
The city is also offering 10 cultural programs during Ramadan, which begins on the evening of April 13.
Still, the pandemic is never far from people’s minds. Jerusalem’s 40 children’s libraries will host story time and culture workshops, over Zoom, next week, when students have off from school.
The cultural events for Easter celebrations, which begin on April 4, will be mostly virtual.
David Parsons, president and senior spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, said his organization’s five half-hour programs marking the important events of Passion Week will be conducted online.
“Because of the restrictions, there aren’t really that many big events for Christians during Easter season,” he says.
In the south of Israel, sunny Eilat is in the middle of a campaign that translates as “101 free experiences to help attract tourists.” These include activities such as an art tour and a phantom drums workshop.
“Every day we have around 15 different activities that you can register for all. All of them are fully booked for Passover,” says Liat Agassi, marketing director at Eilat’s Municipal Company for Tourism.
The hotels, she said, are fully booked at the 75% of capacity permitted under the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.
“We usually don’t have to work a lot to attract people during Passover … but this year we really encouraged people and the hotels worked really hard from February onward with marketing to attract people to convince them to come to Eilat,” Agassi said.
One of the challenges the Israeli hospitality industry is facing as the country progresses in the fight against the novel coronavirus is finding staff.
“As in other parts of the country, we find it very difficult to find employees. People are not coming back to work as they did,” Agassi says.
Still, Yair Shemesh, a manager at the Merom Golan Resort, located at the northern kibbutz of the same name, is excited about the return to something like normal activity. His hotel is also as fully booked as the government allows.
“I worked two days ago in one of the wood-working activities. A lot of people came in and it kind of feels like usual. … It reminded me of a normal day one year ago,” he says.