Israel has lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions and tourism is once more flourishing. But the tourism industry in Israel in general and its hotels in particular are struggling to fill some of their most crucial open positions.
Yael Danieli, the general manager of the Israel Hotel Association, said that in 2019, before the pandemic, her industry had about 42,200 employees. As soon as COVID-19 started spreading in Israel, about 37,500 of them were put on unpaid leave.
Later, as occupancy rates rose some staffers were called back to work. However, the hotel workforce has not returned to its original size or experience, she noted.
“Due to the ups and downs caused by the closures, the industry lost thousands of workers who abandoned it and moved to other industries,” Danieli said.
The shortage of workers that hotels in Israel face today is evident in roles such as waitresses, cooks, receptionists, maintenance and security, she said, which make up the majority of their workforce.
The hotels, she added “will continue to make every effort to recruit Israeli workers, including higher wages and incentives common to most hotels.”
The greater challenge is the hotels’ inability to recruit maids and housekeepers, Danieli said. These employees normally make up about 28% of hotel staff.
Kobby Barda, deputy general director at Tourism Ministry, said that one of the solutions the government has turned to is bringing in foreign workers.
Currently there are 5,500 foreigners working in the country’s hotels, he said, including 1,500 Jordanians, 2,000 Palestinians and 2,000 Filipinos. The ministry hopes this figure will reach 8,000 in the near future.
Barda pointed out that in Israel, it was difficult to fill these positions long before COVID-19; the pandemic just boosted the phenomenon.
As is well known, said Danieli, working as a maid and “cleaning in hotels is very hard and abrasive work and, unfortunately, Israelis are not interested in working in it. This was also the case in the past and today the situation has gotten even worse.”
Barda added that “Israelis are not usually interested in these kinds of jobs. Even 25 years ago, the government launched an initiative called Avoda Muadefet [Preferential Work], where young Israelis after their army service can choose to work in industries that lack employees, in exchange for a financial grant, but even in this case the results are not impressive.”
That is why Israel is working with its neighbors, the Jordanians and the Palestinians, to create a win-win outcome, he said.
On one hand, Israel makes up for the “inherent lack of employees,” as Barda described the situation, and on the other hand, these foreign employees benefit from working in Israel.
“Here in Israel, the minimum wage is much higher than in Jordan or the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
However, Tamir Kobrin, general manager of The King David Hotel in Jerusalem, said that despite the good that bringing in foreign workers has done, the hotel industry has a growing problem with many ramifications.
“They are limited in number and what they can do,” Kobrin said of the foreign workers. At some point, the reliance on foreign staffing will grow to a point that will affect service and hospitality, and people will “prefer to fly out of the country and go elsewhere.”
Danieli added that “after reviewing the foreign workers who are already working in hotels we found that, in order to return the workforce to its required state, it will be necessary to recruit an additional 10,200 workers in all occupations.”
That would represent a 25% increase in the hotels’ total workforce, with the missing maids and cleaners making up 40% of the shortage, she explained.
“The industry is begging for maids and cleaning workers. It already pays above the minimum wage and still does not find workers,” Danieli said.
Kobrin stressed the importance of the state addressing the issue.
He points out that tourism represents a “nice portion” of Israel’s gross domestic product.
If the state would “recognize the importance of the industry and provide incentives, not to the owners but to operators, to develop qualified staff, make the industry a preferred employer and highlight the hospitality industry and how it represents the culture of the country, maybe something will move in the right direction,” he said.
The story is written by Debbie Mohnblatt and reprinted with permission from The Media Line