After two years of the skies being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, tourism in Israel is enjoying an exciting recovery with thousands of travelers expected this summer.
However, the sector, shattered by successive closures and restrictions, has not yet fully recovered.
“Tourist activity has picked up fantastically but this euphoria has been somewhat thwarted by the very high prices and the problems encountered at Ben Gurion airport,” said Joseph, CEO of the Joseph Voyages agency, underlining the struggles that the industry is facing.
For several weeks, scenes of chaos were seen at Israel’s main gateway, due to a major shortage of staff, with around 1,400 positions currently unmanned.
As a result, the airport is operating only at 50 percent of its capacity in the summer season, leading to flight delays and cancellations, losses of thousands of suitcases and endless queues.
However, the logistical disruptions experienced at the start of the summer have not discouraged tourists, who can now travel freely to the country after many months of restrictions. During the pandemic, Israel adopted a very strict travel policy closing the borders for non Israelis, with rare exceptions.
"French and American tourists are expected in large numbers this summer," Joseph says.
Jonathan Nini, manager of the Fabric hotel in Tel Aviv, said that the transition between the cpandemic and the post-pandemic period has been "very fast."
"Suddenly, we went from very low occupancy to many guests," he said. "We are expecting French, Americans, British, Germans, Italian tourists but also Australians and Brazilians, which were rather rare before, but now they are coming more and more," Nini said.
"We have guests visiting Israel for the first time, while others are returning after a two-year break. Some are also reuniting with their families after months of separation," he said.
Chloé, 26, from Paris, will fly to Israel in August to join her brother who lives in Herzliya.
"After the last two years were spent under restrictions, I am finally returning to Israel with my family. It will be an opportunity to see my brother, who made Aliyah and whom we have not hugged in a long time. We are looking forward to this reunion," she said.
However, despite the enthusiasm for a gradual return to normal, Joseph slams the excessively high prices, especially for hotel rooms, which force some holidaymakers to choose other destinations.
"Non-Jewish Europeans, for example, will opt for cheaper countries like Greece," he said.
Staff recruiting difficulties challenge the tourism sector
Mass layoffs during the pandemic, both in airports and in hotels, weakened the tourism sector. It seems workers have completely deserted the profession, turning to better paid jobs.
"We are having trouble recruiting employees, there are not many applicants and for those we receive, people have high expectations, when they do not necessarily have experience. With a fast recovery, we need a large workforce. To overcome this problem, we even increased salaries, because we were unable to find staff," Nini said..
With an occupancy rate of 80 percent in June and almost similar forecasts for July and August, he believes that the season promises to be good.
“The situation is not yet comparable to that of 2019, but it is getting there quite quickly," he said.
Strikes at European airports
The disturbances encountered in Israel also affect France, while a major strike is currently impacting Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport.
Last weekend, dozens of flights were canceled at Roissy with employees protesting their salaries and working conditions.
In Spain too, employees of the low-cost airline Ryanair went on strike last weekend, which resulted in the cancellation of 175 flights. The local union said it would continue to strike for a large part of July in 10 Spanish airports.
However, the strikes at European airports have so far had no impact on flights to Israel.
"I haven't yet seen any cancellation of flights to Israel," Joseph said "but if ever the case arises we are obliged to offer our customers an alternative," he said.
“For the Jewish holidays in October, we advise travelers to book their holidays now and choose refundable offers,” Joseph said.
Full return to normal in the tourism sector is expected by the end of 2023. Until then, travelers will have to be patient and plan their trips in advance.