The struggles and hopes of recovery for Eilat's tourism amid coronavirus
Chen Ben EfraimThe City Has Been Rediscovered
“For the past decade, my brother Tal and I have been the owners of the Eilat branch of Achla, an Israeli grill restaurant chain with a vast menu of meat options and salads that prides itself on excellent service and fresh, high-quality meat. At the same time, I am also a member of the city council as a representative of the “Young Eilat” caucus, so I am very familiar with Eilat’s strengths, as well as its challenges. Three weeks before the lockdown, tourists and visitors stopped coming, which meant that business owners in the city felt the impact of the coronavirus earlier than most. It was particularly clear during Purim, which is usually a very good holiday for us. That was when we understood that we had a problem, and the storm that struck the city only made things worse.
“When we entered lockdown, we furloughed most of our 50 employees. We sat down and thought about how we could best navigate the challenges ahead, and we came up with an idea. We had obviously purchased a huge amount of meat ahead of the Passover holiday, so we said to ourselves that either we end up stuck with it until it spoils, or we pull ourselves together and sell it, like a butchers. We prepared ‘packs’ with different types of meat for 10 people for 500 shekels, and we filmed videos to promote the initiative. It was a huge success, and word went around the whole city.
When we reopened at the start of June, Israeli visitors who were unable to go abroad rediscovered Eilat and started coming in huge numbers. We actually saw our income increase compared to June 2019. We even started looking to hire new employees, but had to put that on ice as a result of the lack of clarity surrounding the new restrictions. This city has been through tough times in recent years, I hope it’s able to pull through. On the one hand, I’m disappointed by the inexplicable lack of interest in our city by various government offices. On the other hand, I’m encouraged by the new Minister of Tourism, Asaf Zamir, who has visited Eilat and loves the city, and appreciates how different it is to every other city in Israel.”
The writer is the co-owner of the ‘Achla’ restaurant in Eilat 1, Kamen St, Eilat.
Waiting for Tourists and Trade Unions
“I am a man of the sea and a captain by trade. We purchased the “Galaxy” glass-bottomed boat two and a half years ago. We see it as a ‘family boat’, because the whole family works on it—myself, my wife and the children, some of whom have their own sailing licenses. The boat has space for 80 passengers, and glass panels underfoot, through which they can see the incredible marine life and coral reefs of the Red Sea. Shortly before the outbreak of the coronavirus, a storm struck the city, almost completely paralyzing it. Luckily, we had moved the boat into the inner lagoon ahead of time, saving it, but the city has still not fully recovered.
“We went into lockdown on March 15th, along with everyone else, but we noticed the decline in activity a week beforehand – foreign tourists and Israelis stopped coming, and the cancellations started. I was in contact with the professional staff at the bank regarding receiving a state-backed loan, and I have nothing but praise for them. At the same time, we furloughed our three employees and sat at home until we were allowed out on June 10th—almost three months later.
“In the weeks since, there has been some activity, but still less than usual, because we are dependent on the hotels, and the guests still aren’t coming. It’s a chain reaction. It’s just a shame that those who do come to the city are afraid to leave their hotels and prefer to stay in their rooms.
Our passenger capacity has also been cut in half as part of the new guidelines. We’re working in accordance with the ‘Purple Badge’ guidelines and trying to survive, in the hope that by the winter, tour groups and trade unions will return. However, I am encouraged by the fact that domestic tourism has picked up—now that flying abroad is not an option, and because Eilat is a vibrant and safe city with good food and entertainment that Israelis enjoy.”
The writer is the owner and operator of the “Galaxy” glass-bottomed boat.
Entrance to Eilat’s commercial marina. Phone: 050-2393272.
Be Experts in Content in Your Field
“I liked the Facebook and Instagram presence of Achla, and I would even suggest they spend more time on their customer records, to enable them to keep in regular contact with them. By that I mean, every customer who comes in must be registered in their CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management) including birthdays, special requests etc…The online presence of the Galaxy glass-bottomed boat, on the other hand, is poor. I was unable to find them on Facebook or Instagram, and there is no link from their website to their social media accounts. That has to improve, to enable them to get themselves out there and become the go-to content experts in their field. At the beginning of last month, for example, there was a shark near the beach in Eilat. That was their opportunity to write about the shark population of the Red Sea, to put up a few photos and to talk about previous encounters that their passengers have had with sharks. That way, you retain a constant presence.”
The writer is a business strategy consultant and lecturer in marketing at the College of Management
Recognizing and Responding to Unexpected Situations
“Eilat is dependent on the tourism industry, and even before the pandemic, the city had to deal with a particularly harsh storm that reached its shores and caused significant damage. The simple truth is that there are situations that it is difficult to prepare for. When they happen, however, it is important to identify them and respond to them in real-time. For example, the more carefully and attentively a business manages its cash flow—which is its lifeblood—the better prepared the business will be for different scenarios. In addition, the coronavirus has brought into sharp relief the need to streamline the operational efficiency of the business in every aspect: HR, cost of raw materials, stocks and transitioning to an online model (because every business today requires a digital presence). That’s why it is important to speak to your bank account manager and to let them know about any financial issues that arise, to find out about the available tools and to receive professional, creative and appropriate sol
utions. Ever since my first day at the bank, I’ve gone by the saying, “a bright shekel for a dark day”. The coronavirus has demonstrated how important it is for everyone—businesses as well as private individuals—to ensure there are savings for emergency situations, because you never know when they might be necessary.
The writer is the manager of the Eilat branch of Bank Hapoalim