The closing of Israel's borders due to COVID-19 has affected many sectors, including tourism, which had been continuously flourishing until the virus appeared. The vast majority of tourism professionals have seen their activity drastically reduced if not completely shut down, but some have successfully adjusted, making the changes necessary to navigate the crisis.
HolyGuest was founded in 2014 by Rudy Abrahami, now 32. Abrahami immigrated to Israel at the age of 21 in order to serve as a lone soldier in a combat unit in the IDF. As soon as he was discharged from the army, he founded HolyGuest, with the aim of bridging the gaps between European services’ standards and the Israeli culture. HolyGuest manages luxury properties belonging to foreign residents, and provides short, medium, and long-term property management services. The firm's staff consists primarily of new immigrants, reflecting a desire to help such people stay and settle in Israel.
Over 150 foreign residents from Europe and the United States
"I founded the company because I’ve always been attracted to real estate and tourism. I wanted to offer a reliable service that would simplify the process of investing and holding a property here", Abrahami says. "The Airbnb industry was small and little-known at first, but there were developments that opened it up for tourism and also for the good of the country as a whole".
Abrahami's service ethic and reliability have led over 150 foreign residents from Europe and the United States to entrust their luxury apartments to him – properties located in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Paris, and soon in other cities around the world. He and his partners have championed the highest standards and pioneered innovations that have made HolyGuest the go-to company for foreign residents seeking property management services.
"We're successfully navigating the pandemic thanks to a lot of flexibility and effort on the part of our staff. We do our best to stay in contact with the landlords, to understand their needs and preferences, and to adjust to developments", Abrahami says.
The reciprocal interest of foreign residents, real estate investors, and Israel's flourishing tourism industry set the stage for HolyGuest's rapid growth. Millions of tourists and families visiting Israel each year realized that there was an alternative to hotels charging $400 or $500 per night, and opted to stay in HolyGuest's luxury properties. The apartments, it should be noted, are managed by HolyGuest for foreign residents who need them 2-3 times a year. The landlords don't want to rent these properties out for lengthy periods; rather, they are interested in short- and medium-term rental arrangements that will help cover their costs. This creates an advantageous option for families and businesspeople seeking accommodations for periods ranging from a few days to a few months. These visitors enjoy the best of both worlds: homelike comfort, and hotel-standard service.
"The whole idea is that guests come and feel welcomed. We emphasize service and hospitality as we understand that guests don’t come to stay in a property. They stay to experience the city, the country. We’re here to make that happen and assist with their needs", says Abrahami. "Trust and transparency are key attributes in our industry. We ensure full transparency for the landlord. We are happy to see that we get so much word-of-mouth recommendations; people entrust us with apartments worth millions of dollars, and they rely on us. They're the ones who come to us, and that's an excellent measure of success".
It's worth noting that HolyGuest doesn't just manage its clients' properties; it also handles apartment design down to the last detail – "up to the mezuza level", as Abrahami puts it. All this is done in coordination with the client, and on the basis of a predetermined and approved budget. Investors often buy apartments on paper; when construction is completed, someone has to receive and check the apartment, design and furnish it. "We're here to assist, and make the process easier. HolyGuest even handles clients' payments to the local authorities", Abrahami explains.
luxury apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
HolyGuest, and companies like it, make a major contribution to the Israeli economy. The ability to provide both tourists and locals with apartments for periods of varying length, is an economic stimulus that creates a win-win situation for all.
"The buyers whose properties we manage come to Israel a few times a year; basically, they've bought a place where they can stay should something happen in their home country that would force them to seek accommodations elsewhere. Leaving these apartments empty all year long would serve no one", says Abrahami, laying out the rationale that has led people to invest in Israel. "When we rent out these properties to tourists or business travellers, it stimulates the economy in the entire area where the apartments are located, since the renters spend money at local businesses".
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, Israel's gates were closed and the country emptied of tourists. "This is a historic situation in which the country is closed to tourists and people from abroad", says Abrahami. "In March half a million dollars worth of Purim and Passover bookings were cancelled, we felt like everything was collapsing like a house of cards. We had to think fast and come up with solutions and adjustments".
Abrahami's adaptations included reassigning employees to different tasks as dictated by changing conditions, and pushing the long term property management and realty division that combines the human experience of hospitality with the staff's in-depth knowledge of the market.
Another business adjustment had to do with HolyGuest's target population and the rental periods afforded by the available apartment stock: 20 percent of the properties became long-term rentals, 50 percent were rented out for the medium term, and the rest for short periods of one to two weeks. "This arrangement lets both us and the landlords relax. It has enabled them to rest easy about their high monthly payments, and allowed us to open up the market to locals eager to stay in our luxury apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem".
As part of its effort to reorganize, HolyGuest enlarged its apartment stock by acquiring another management company, and broadened its portfolio. "In any difficult period, there are opportunities. We prefer to see the glass as half full. We're here, we're here to stay, and we're not going anywhere".
Are you optimistic about the tourists coming back?
"A great many people are waiting to come to Israel. We never have a conversation with foreign residents where they don't tell us how much they miss Israel. Coming to Israel is a regular part of their lives. They come for work, to visit family, to enjoy the beach, the food, the people, and the weather, they come for celebrations and they hold family events.
"I believe that when the skies open up, Israel will be flooded with tourists, probably vaccinated ones. We're already getting bookings for the summer, and we're both optimistic and realistic. These are challenging times, but we're getting through them with our clients, who express their trust in us and show support. By staying alert to the current situation, and maintaining the high level of service that HolyGuest has always offered, we'll emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever".