Israel’s hospitality industry begs for workers

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The industry, which is turning more to foreign workers, was struggling to retain staff even before the COVID-19 pandemic

Israel has lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions and tourism is booming again. But Israel’s tourism industry in general and its hotels in particular are struggling to fill some of their most crucial vacancies.

Yael Danieli, chief executive of the Israel Hotel Association, told The Media Line that in 2019, before the pandemic, her industry had about 42,200 employees. As soon as COVID-19 started spreading in Israel, around 37,500 of them were put on unpaid leave.

Later, as occupancy rates increased, some staff 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 shutdowns, the industry has lost thousands of workers who have left it and moved to other industries,” Danieli said.

The labor shortage that hotels in Israel face today is evident in roles such as waitresses, cooks, receptionists, maintenance and security, she said, which constitute the majority of their workforce.

Hotels, she added, “will continue to do everything possible to recruit Israeli workers, including higher salaries and incentives common to most hotels.”

Israelis are generally not interested in these kinds of jobs

The biggest challenge is the inability of hotels to recruit housekeepers and cleaners, Danieli said. These employees normally make up about 28% of hotel staff.

Kobby Barda, deputy director general at the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, told The Media Line that one solution the government has turned to is bringing in foreign workers.

Currently, 5,500 foreigners work in the country’s hotels, he said, including 1,500 Jordanians, 2,000 Palestinians and 2,000 Filipinos. The ministry hopes that 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 has only amplified the phenomenon.

As is well known, Danieli said, working as a housekeeper and “cleaning in hotels is very hard and abrasive work and, unfortunately, Israelis are not interested in working there. This was also the case in the past and today the situation has become even worse.

Barda added that “Israelis are generally not 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 military service can choose to work in industries that lack employees, in exchange for a financial subsidy, but even then the results are not impressive.

This is why Israel is working with its neighbors, the Jordanians and the Palestinians, to create a win-win outcome, he said.

On the one hand, Israel compensates 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, told The Media Line that despite the good the arrival of foreign workers has done, the hospitality industry has a growing problem with many ramifications.

“They are limited in numbers and what they can do,” Kobrin said of foreign workers. At some point, the reliance on foreign staff will increase to a point that will affect service and hospitality, and people will “prefer to leave the country and go somewhere else”.

The industry is begging for maids and cleaners. He is already paying above minimum wage and still cannot find workers.

Danieli added that “after reviewing the foreign workers already working in the hotels, we found that in order to bring the workforce back to its required state, it will be necessary to recruit an additional 10,200 workers in all occupations. “.

This would represent a 25% increase in the total hotel workforce, with missing chambermaids and housekeepers accounting for 40% of the shortage, she explained.

“The industry is begging for maids and cleaners. He’s already paying above minimum wage and still can’t find workers,” Danieli said.

Kobrin stressed the importance for the state to solve the problem.

He points out that tourism represents a “beautiful part” of Israel’s gross domestic product.

If the State “recognized the importance of industry and encouraged, not the owners but the operators, to train qualified personnel, to make industry a preferred employer and to promote the hotel industry and the way she represents the culture of the country, maybe something will go in the right direction,” he said.

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