Eight months ago, many of us were looking for ways to cope with full calendars and overlapping reservations. No one could imagine the extreme, unbelievable, threatening situation that we are experiencing today.
Our work as guides of incoming tourists was suddenly interrupted; we were all tossed into a strange, difficult reality which in many cases is contrary to our self-image both as people and as tour guides. The disruption to the rhythm of our daily lives is unlike anything we have previously experienced and the damage is intense – both from on a personal and national level.
And so, at Moreshet Derech, we saw a responsibility to immediately mobilize for the benefit of our members, in response to a reality which is much more hidden than known. Almost every day, new challenges were discovered, and we saw how the circle of our members needing help rose. Especially, a helping hand was necessary to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth which was thrust upon us, and to provide a friendly ear and an open heart for whoever was in need.
For an organization entirely run by volunteers, the process was at times more apparent than the result. Helping each other inherently connects, binding us together, and bringing out the good in all of us. It also pushes us to give more – time, energy, empathy, and, in certain cases money – for our members in need, and to start a project together which we hope will bring about positive results. We have also found ourselves in struggles with the national leadership, including elected officials and those we trust with our mental health, physical health, and economic well-being. As citizens of a nation involved in the politics of survival, officials in the government don’t tend to take “chances” in making decisions, including those who are involving direct support of tour guides – the Ministry of Tourism.
I am proud of being part of organizational leadership which arose during the crisis. As we approach the beginning of a new year, the time has come to thank those who began work whose end we cannot predict, neither in result nor in time. Our struggle is not over and we ask for the help and involvement of everyone to advance our professional future and economic security.
At the beginning of the crisis we opened an unemployment hotline to provide assistance and has helped thousands of tour guides. At the same time, we began large scale activity with various agencies.
We thank the unemployment hotline – members Gadi Dahan, Wai-Lam Chan, Rebecca Nokrian, Erez Cohen, David Gurevich and many others; thanks to the people of Bituach Leumi who used their energy and worked on our behalf – CEO Meir Spiegler; VP Orna; Alon Dassa, responsible for unemployment and his staff; Danny Zakan and others.
Our thanks to the “Tent People” – a private initiative of Moreshet Derech member Peter Gokhvat who understood that in order to begin a project, you need to act by taking a leadership role and not by waiting. He began with a hunger strike and very quickly drew (or they were drawn to him) friends who joined in his hunger strike – Zvi Herpaz and Nachum Eisenstat. Many others began to “enjoy” days and night in the tent – thanks to Avinoam, Lena, Shuki and Anna, to Patricia, Gustavo, Odelia, Benaya, and others, with reinforcements of many good friends who came out to support them, to help them and to be present. Thanks to all.
During the 70 days of striking, the “Tent People” opened the door for connections with more than 60 Knesset members and ministers, members of the various committees in the Knesset, Parliamentary aides, and lobbyists. Because of them, today tour guides and Moreshet Derech are a known constituency and our hands are still outstretched to continue working with them.
The issues which arose in discussions with these contacts were varied and numerous, and we published a number of position papers, and suggestions for proposals. We suggested and published a wide range of options for combining the employment of tour guides in different projects together with the Minister of Tourism, Minister of Education, Welfare Minister, the Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the Science Minister. We are still waiting for responses to several issues from these ministries concerning suggestions about how to take advantage of our abilities and experience for the benefit of the general public through working with the relevant ministries. As they say, “We’re not holding our breath.”
We tried and succeeded in changing the classification to employees for the owners of Eshkol vehicles – Through pressures on the director of Bituach Leumi, Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, signed an order to allow owners of Eshkol vehicles to be granted their unemployment rights.
The changes in the law were to come into effect on September 1, 2020; and sadly, and to the frustration of the heads of Bituach Leumi, and the Finance Minister, the order was interpreted such that according to law, we are still not eligible for unemployment benefits. We are continuing to act with the relevant authorities towards an equitable solution for tour guides who are owners of an Eshkol vehicle and have been unemployed since March 2020.
To remind you, at the beginning of the struggle, we were one of the leaders of the protest of the entire tourism industry outside of the Knesset when the Knesset members were sworn into office. The process led to the establishment of the Mate Atid Hatayarut (Organization for the Advancement of Tourism) which has 15 member organizations representing direct providers in the tourism segment, who also did not receive any solutions for their distress caused by COVID. Airlines, hotels, and large travel agents received and continue to receive answers and funds. There was a need, therefore, to unite all the “others”, including tour guides, to provide representation, in the context of efforts to save the tourism industry. We are part of a large group whose interest is tourism; we are in the right place.
Currently, we are finishing wording requests for the government to establish a Tourism Preservation and Initiation Fund. During the first, initial phase we are requesting a budget to be activated immediately (after Sukkot) of subsidized tours. Tour guides, small tour agents, transport companies, and owners of Eshkol vehicles will propose itineraries including lodging in areas of the periphery. The tours will be given in conjunction with attractions, national parks, restaurants and lodgings, and so will stimulate tourism, which will be based on Israeli tourists, and offered in different languages.
As soon as the wording is completed and presented, it will be advertised to the community of tour guides and to tourists.
In the second phase, we are requesting a budget for placing tour guides in different frameworks – welfare, education, and others. In the third, long-term phase, we propose allocating a budget for training in fields related to tourism, in order to maintain most of us in the tourism sector. On this front, you will receive notification when the issue is finalized.
The Eshkol Organization – under the leadership of member Motti Barnas, member of Moreshet Derech. Today Motti has been recommended to represent the interests of owners of Eshkol vehicles on the Eshkol Committee in the Transportation Ministry and the Ministry of Tourism.
The current crisis has caused serious damage to some of our members, both financially and emotionally.
Therefore, we view it as our moral imperative to empower the value of mutual responsibility. This important understanding applies at all times, and becomes more pertinent now, in assisting our members in every aspect necessary, both financially and emotionally.
Thanks to our members who run the Foundation for Mutual Responsibility, Tour Guides at Heart (an initiative of Tour Guides for Tour Guides) including – Liran Gabbai, Rebecca Nokrian, Erez Cohen, Emil Tal, and Yaacov Nof and Avivit Elnekaveh (who isn’t a tour guide but does all the graphic design work and volunteers her expertise and her abilities). Involved in this project are also volunteers in the field of psychology who addressed tour guides’ needs; therefore, they also deserve our thanks. Of course, we couldn’t advance this project without the many among us who donated their time or money. Because of them and the operational staff, hundreds of tour guides received financial and emotional help in order to manage the period of the holidays!
Many voices were heard from the field saying we need unity – at this point we propose creating a unified vision during this crisis for all of our merits, in order to serve tour guides wherever they are.
Now is not the time to speak about the structure of this organizations’ future, when we are all still in the midst of a crisis causing serious damage to our profession. However, our rights to demand recognition stand as a large representative organization for tour guides working with incoming tourism. This step of being recognized will occur, and we will strive to create a comprehensive organizational framework allowing us to be the accepted organization representing tour guides in incoming tourism. During the past few months, we worked hard on this topic, and in the spirit of unity, we have achieved this!
We see 2021 before us, not just the Hebrew year, and so we remember that in January 2021, our general meeting and elections for the council of Moreshet Derech will be held. The goal of attracting members continues, and we call on everyone to recruit members in order to register as many as possible to the association. It is clear that we can already say undoubtedly and definitively – Moreshet Derech is the largest organization faithfully representing tour guides for incoming tourism. This recognition has been achieved through you, our members, and is recognized by legislators. It will not be long before our employers (the Tour Operators Organization) also recognize this, when work resumes. Our message is definitely for you and because of you, and we say clearly, Moreshet Derech carries us forward!
Our work is abundant – our goals are:
To be present as a representational organization in every professional forum; we will also be recognized as the representational organization in the coming months!
Connections with the Aguda – there is a change here and the role of the chairman, Mr. Benny Kfir (we wish him a speedy recovery to full health) is being taken by Mr. Eli Malul. We are trying to meet in good faith to find market issues on which we can join forces and create one vision to take on the challenges which stand before us, in relations with the government and the Ministry of Tourism. We are aware of the rumblings on the ground and respond to members who ask to find common ground. We are trying.
Elections for Moreshet Derech will be held at the end of January 2021 – membership paid until the beginning of November allows you to participate not only as a voter but also as a candidate for the committees that will lead us into the future, according to the bylaws of the association.
We hope to see more presence of women and young adults and, especially, representation from all the sectors of members who intend to be active in the field for the next 20 years or more. Most of the committee members are currently reaching retirement age, and who knows when the work will return for us.
Moreshet Derech wishes all our members, and their families, to all tour guides in incoming tourism, that we will see each other on the trails, that this will be a Shana Tova, a better year with full health and mental fortitude.
Chairman and the entire elected, active committee members