Back to communal sleeping
Many kibbutzim have replaced their guesthouses with upgraded hotels. But those who are willing to settle for basic facilities can still find a few modestly priced kibbutzim.
Communal dining, children's dormitories and a central laundromat have not been part of the scene at most kibbutzim for quite some time. Now another familiar feature of the kibbutz is disappearing - the guesthouse.
Until a few years ago, vacationers could stay at one of the many kibbutz guesthouses, which offered modest rooms, a swimming pool, spacious lawns, and tourist attractions in the vicinity - all for a reasonable price. In recent years, however, these guesthouses, like the kibbutzim themselves, have undergone massive changes. Members are investing millions of shekels in their older vacation facilities, hoping to make them more attractive to a much wider customer base.
"The guesthouse is what we used to call the kibbutz hotel, but this term is now obsolete" says Anat Nissim, who directs internal tourism at the Galilee Development Authority, and is also CEO of the tourism association, Land of Galilee. "The kibbutzim realized that they cannot afford to be left behind, and are now in the midst of a major project designed to upgrade rental rooms." According to Nissim, kibbutz hospitality is divided into two categories. One category consists of hotels, such as at Kfar Gil'adi or HaGoshrim, where full hotel services are offered. Accommodation there is usually in stone buildings of several floors. The second category consists of vacation villages, where in addition to stone dwellings, wooden cabins are also offered.
At Lohamei HaGeta'ot, for example, they have just completed a substantial upgrading of their guestrooms, including the merging of smaller units into larger ones. "We went through this upgrading process since the rooms were quite run-down, and not necessarily with the intent of raising prices," explains Tammy Minz, who runs the hospitality business on the kibbutz. A family unit which costs NIS 900 a night during the summer months cost NIS 800 a night prior to the renovation. The upgrading was undertaken in order to remain competitive with "zimmers" (bed and breakfast establishments ) with their Jacuzzis and espresso machines.
Those who seek kibbutz accommodation at the old prices can still find more modest rooms at NIS 400-600 a night per couple, with NIS 120 per child, bringing the total to NIS 700-800 for a family, mid-week. These prices don't get you an upgraded, spacious cabin, but rather a standard room with common areas for parents and children. This is suitable for people who do not intend to spend their vacation primarily in the room, but rather on the kibbutz grounds or traveling in the vicinity.
"In contrast to zimmers (bed and breakfasts), the kibbutz hospitality facilities are comprised of clusters of 15 rooms or more, going up to even 80 rooms. This suits the requirements of many families or groups of friends who wish to travel and vacation together", says Nissim. "The kibbutz grounds offer spacious lawns, which are an attraction mainly for city dwellers, who are looking for such spaces in which their children can run around and play without them having to worry about traffic."
The Metaylim hotel chain realized several years ago that there was also a demand by some travellers for modest rooms. They rented three kibbutz guesthouses (in Eilon, Malkiya and Gesher HaZiv ) in the western Galilee and branded them as more basic accommodation. "We understood that there are three types of vacationers in Israel", says Bat Hen Yeshua, CEO of the chain. "There are those who look for an all inclusive hotel where they can just flop around, others who look for a romantic getaway including amenities such as a Jacuzzi, and families who simply need a base from which to go out on trips. This last group requires a pleasant and clean standard room for sleeping, and this is the group we are targeting."
The main reason the Metaylim chain targeted this last group and not the one looking for romantic escapes is a financial one. "Our facilities encompass around 30 rooms, making it difficult to market ourselves as offering romantic zimmers with Jacuzzis," explains Yeshua. "A couple arriving at a romantic room is not delighted to have a multitude of other people around. On the other hand, units containing up to 5 rooms, such as those offered on some moshavim and other settlements, are not very profitable due to the large investment required in advertising. Marketing and advertising costs are more suitable for larger complexes of 30 rooms, and not for units of five rooms." Those who provide vacation facilities for families emphasize the activities on the kibbutz or nearby. "Our concept is that people staying with us want to tour the Galilee and not stay in their rooms," says Yeshua. "We therefore invest in locating activities that are available in our area, such as shows, marine activities, animal petting corners or workshops."
Minz of Lohamei HaGeta'ot also argues that, despite the recent upgrading of facilities, staying on a kibbutz is still part of a kibbutz experience, with modestly furnished rooms, bread that is baked on the kibbutz, served with butter and jam, just like the afternoon tea snacks in days gone by. "We envision our surroundings as the real treat. We love this area and are happy to let our guests enjoy what it has to offer. There is a lot to do around here."
The south is cheaper
Which kibbutzim offer accommodation at decent prices? Using the recommendations of various tourist operators, we checked the prices at various kibbutzim for the month of August. We tried to find only those offering accommodation for a family of two adults and two children at under NIS 800 a night. At most kibbutz hotels, such as Ein Gedi, Shfayim, Kfar Gil'adi and Hagoshrim, prices topped our budget limit. A room at Hagoshrim cost NIS 1,800 a night per family, while in Shfayim it was NIS 1,300 a night. The prices at Kfar Gil'adi and Ein Gedi were NIS 1,350 and NIS 1,050, respectively. Some vacation villages located in kibbutzim demanded more than NIS 1,000 a night, with prices ranging from NIS 1,430 a night in Ma'agan to NIS 1,650 in Lehavot HaBashan.
Nevertheless, we did manage to find some kibbutzim with more modest prices. At Kibbutz Zor'a, the price for a family unit NIS 720 a night; at Ramat Hashofet, NIS 740. At Mizra, a room can be had for NIS 770 a night, with prices ranging from NIS 590 to NIS 730 at Menara. Cheaper rooms were also found in the south, such as at Gvulot, in which a family unit costs NIS 570 a night.
"It's a question of policy. We prefer guests that come for more than one night. At these prices, a family can comfortably afford to spend four nights here in August," says Ronit Dvir, marketing director for Gvulot, a kibbutz in the south. "Furthermore, if the peak season in the rest of the country is in August, down here it is in October. People think it will be too hot to vacation here, but August is hot everywhere. At least we have the advantage of a dry climate, in contrast to the high humidity elsewhere."