Tourism helps Israeli town situated by a natural crater to get out of an economic hole
Residents of the small town say there are more jobs, more people and more opportunities since a new hotel opened.
After years of economic hardship and demographic shrinkage, there's good news in Mitzpeh Ramon. The population of the small Negev desert town is growing and unemployment is down. This is because, say officials and residents, of its booming tourism industry.
Local authorities say the town's population has been growing steadily since 2008, when 5,179 people lived there. Today 5,456 residents live there.
Also, unemployment has dropped steadily. Some 18 months ago, about 300 local residents lacked work, whereas today that figure is about 150, says Mitzpeh Ramon Mayor Flora Shoshan.
"Unlike other places in the country, there is significant development and economic growth here in Mitzpeh Ramon," she says. "We're attracting young people and there are new business initiatives. Tourism is growing at a tremendous rate, which impacts everything else. It encourages new businesses to open up."
About 400 jobs were created over the past year in Mitzpeh Ramon, Shoshan says. Some of the new employees come from neighboring towns such as Dimona, as well as from nearby Bedouin communities.
"A number of small businesses have been established here, and they provide jobs to residents from the entire region. Once, in Israel, the place to find work was in the center of the country, whereas today people are coming to the periphery to find employment," says Shoshan.
One big boost to the local economy came from Bereshit, a luxury hotel that opened 18 months ago. It offers visitors beautiful accommodations and fabulous views of the famous Ramon crater, hence the town's name, which means "View of the crater". The establishment of this hotel inspired the opening of gas stations, restaurants, and leisure facilities for youths.
"Our hotel has given work to 240 people from the region; some 160 of these are Mitzpeh Ramon residents, either town veterans or people who came to live here after the hotel was opened," says the hotel's manager, Silvi Cohen Gabai, who moved into the town three years ago.
"You can feel that there is more activity today in Mitzpeh Ramon," she adds. "There is curiosity about this place, and Mitzpeh Ramon today attracts numerous tourists."
Viki Knafo has been working at the Bereshit hotel since it opened, and the single mom says the hotel has truly improved the situation for her and her fellow Mitzpeh Ramon residents.
"Unemployment levels have been reduced, and the hotel has attracted high-quality families to this area. In the past, low-income families were attracted here by public housing, and they had difficulties finding work. But the hotel has contributed more than jobs; it has increased the quality of life in Mitzpeh Ramon. It has helped me plan for the future, and move forward. Today in Mitzpeh Ramon we have much better conditions, thanks to the growth of tourism. I never dreamed that I would have a pension," Knafo says.