Israel’s tourism sector fears lower unemployment benefits

Travel agencies fear employee exodus to other industries

Israel’s tourism industry faces two challenges associated with July 1. This is the day the country was due to start welcoming individual (vaccinated) foreign visitors, but in light of an outbreak of the delta (“Indian”) variant of the new coronavirus, which has been postponed for at least a month.

The end of June also marks the end for most job seekers of extended unemployment benefits, and tourism-related businesses fear that employees who have been put on leave due to the downturn in business following the pandemic could are leaving for another industry, adding yet another burden to companies trying to keep their doors open.

Under the rules set out by new Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, people under 45 who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 closures will stop receiving unemployment benefits, and many over 45 years will see their payments drop.

“Two of my tour guides have found other work, my best tour operator has left and is working in a hotel as a receptionist. … People are leaving because even those who are on leave [benefits], they don’t get their full pay, ”Joe Yudin, founder and owner of Touring Israel Luxury Private Tours, told The Media Line. “Lots of tour guides have left the country or turned to other businesses.”

He talks about people like Miriam, who declined to give her last name, a former Tel Aviv-based tour guide who became a bartender.

“I loved my job but I can’t afford to stay,” she told The Media Line, referring to the benefit limit for people under 45. “I cannot afford to wait with the uncertainty of when tourists will be allowed to return.

“I have three roommates and I can barely pay my rent as is,” she added.

Without foreign tourists, Yudin cannot afford to reintegrate his employees and they are under increased pressure to find work in another field.

“I’m going to end up with no salespeople or marketing, no tour operators or tour guides, and the saddest thing is that everyone wants to come to Israel,” he said.

Foreign visitors are now expected to start arriving on August 1, but Yudin is skeptical.

“It was first in April, then it was May, then it was June 1, then more recently July 1 and now they say August 1,” he said. “I don’t understand what the government expects from me.

He called on the government to open Israel’s borders to vaccinated tourists.

“Why is there a resurgence of COVID in Israel? It’s because the Israelis go abroad, come home and give it to their unvaccinated children who then go to school and spread it there, ”Yudin said. “It’s absurd that they let the Israelis travel all over the world, but they don’t let vaccinated tourists enter the country. “

However, he believes that Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv is not ready to screen tourists for COVID-19, given that on June 18, testing for the virus was bypassed in some cases in due to insufficient resources.

“I don’t think they can screen everyone, I don’t think they have the means, I don’t think they have the infrastructure to perform COVID checks for every passenger making the round trip in Israel, ”Yudin said. “They can’t even control the return of all Israelis. “

Yudin was forced to put most of its employees on unpaid leave in April 2020, making them eligible for government assistance which has been expanded to accommodate the growing number of people who have lost their jobs. He was able to keep two of his 15 employees on the payroll thanks to another government funding program for companies directly impacted by the coronavirus, but he has not received a check since last December and the state recently asked him to return most of the funds he had received. .

“They say I am not entitled to it, and there is no one to talk to and no other formula to use,” he said, referring to a calculation provided by the government based on the amount which he earned every two months in 2019. The actual help Yudin received was actually less than the math dictated.

He has applied for financial aid for the whole of 2021 but has not yet received it, which could mean the end of his business.

“I kept two people on the payroll with the government’s promise that the money would be paid every two months,” Yudin said. “I spend more just to keep the business afloat than the benefits I get and now they want it back, which is money that I don’t have.

“If this dries up, I will have to file for bankruptcy. I will try to look for another job somewhere and try to pay off the debt that I have because of the closure of airports by the government, ”he said.

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