As of Wednesday morning, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel had risen to 76. The day before, the government decreed that everybody entering Israel, including all Israelis returning from abroad from every country, must self-quarantine for 14 days. This isolation is not voluntary, it is mandatory. One consequence of the cautionary measures has been a plague of cancellations in the rental market for local holiday apartments and Airbnb home rentals to tourists.
Yet some landlords have found the silver lining in this debacle. Many of the tens of thousands of Israelis ordered to self-quarantine need a place to stay, an equipped one, far from their healthy families. At least some home-owners are seizing the moment.
“The idea is to put together cancellations by tourists who don't come because of the Health Ministry restrictions, the harm to landlords, and the needs of people sent into quarantine who don’t have a place to isolate themselves properly,” says Eliraz Zohar, head of an Airbnb Host Israel Facebook group whose members include more than 1,500 vacation–home hosts in Israel. “More and more people are returning from abroad, have to remain in isolation, and don’t want to stay in proximity to their healthy families," he adds.
Even if one must considerately stay away from the family, one doesn't have to do it alone. "Recently I was contacted by five guys who came back from Spain and wanted to go into isolation together. They didn't much care where," Zohar says. "They requested a large apartment somewhere between Tel Aviv and Gan Yavneh. I uploaded an announcement out to the group and I got back a lot of responses from potential hosts."
Because the stay at stake is a relatively long 14 days, many homeowners are offering discount rates for people in self-quarantine and are bending over backwards to ease their stay, Zohar adds.
As a precaution, the managers of the online group are instructing the hosts to follow the cleanliness and disinfection instructions issued by the Health Ministry, he says. “We are trying as much as possible find apartments that are suitable for isolation – that is, apartments with an entrance separate from the rest of the building, so people in 'quarantine apartments' and healthy individuals don't mix,” he adds.
Isolated, in style
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Surfing the Facebook pages of Airbnb hosts and other holiday home-owners show that Zohar isn't the only one who had an epiphany. “Isolate in style,” proposes a post in one of the groups. Another host offers equipped holiday apartments in Jerusalem with “kitchens, private balconies and 24-hour service that will see to all needs. Ah – and also Netflix of course!”
Another advertisement, in Tel Aviv, offers people ordered to self-quarantine “hospitality like at a hotel, at a special price for two weeks.”
As of December 2019, there were about 13,000 apartments for short-term rent in Tel Aviv, at a cost of around $115 to $150 per night, according to Transparent, a company that monitors figures from short-term rental internet sites.
Tens of thousands of Israelis need to be in isolation, but the Health Ministry declined to state how many tens of thousands are involved: "The figure is very dynamic," the ministry spokeswoman told Haaretz on Wednesday, adding that the ministry will not disseminate "inaccurate" information. In any case the number presumably jumped after the state decreed Monday that everybody entering the country from anywhere in the world had to self-isolate for two weeks.
“There is heavy demand among people returning from abroad,” confirms Itamar Dichtold of Port City, a company that operates vacation apartments in Haifa and Tel Aviv via the websites Airbnb and Booking.com. “The apartments are serving people seeking a place to stay in order not to infect their family and relatives. The apartments have everything: an equipped kitchen, television, Netflix, Wi-Fi, towels and bed linen.”
The company is taking strict steps to avoid spreading contagion, Dichtold adds. “We confirm with the guest that if he turns out to be sick, he is required to report to us and to the authorities. In addition, the apartments undergo stringent disinfection so as not to endanger anyone.”
As the novel virus spreads, given its implications for the tourism industry, Airbnb recently updated its cancellation policy. Under the new policy, guests who came from a region with high infection rates, or guests who are required to be in isolation, may cancel reservations without incurring any costs. This policy also applies to the hosts, who are also entitled to cancel without incurring costs or impairing their apartment's rating on the website.