27,000 ho­tel rooms to be added by 2026 to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists’ angst

Tourism Min­istry says lack of ho­tel rooms causes price hike

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By MICHELLE MALKA GROSSMAN

A plan to con­struct 27,000 ho­tel rooms in the next 20 years has drawn the ire of Knes­set mem­bers and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups con­cerned about a “dra­matic in­crease” in devel­op­ment along the na­tion’s coasts.

On Mon­day, the Knes­set’s In­te­rior Com­mit­tee ap­proved the sec­ond and third read­ing of the Na­tional Mas­ter Plan. Called Tama 35, the plan is meant to guide the coun­try’s spa­tial devel­op­ment for the next two decades, bal­anc­ing devel­op­ment needs with the preser­va­tion of open spa­ces.

Tama 35 in­cludes the “Levin Law,” spear­headed by Tourism Min­is­ter Yariv Levin, which aims to sim­plify the ap­proval of ho­tel build­ing per­mits in or­der to lower ho­tel prices.

The bill gives ho­tels “na­tional in­fra­struc­ture” sta­tus. The des­ig­na­tion trans­fers ap­proval for ho­tel projects to the Fi­nance Min­istry’s Na­tional Plan­ning and Build­ing Com­mit­tee. Cur­rently the per­mits need ap­proval from Fi­nance Min­is­ter Moshe Kahlon.

Fur­ther­more, new ho­tels will be per­mit­ted to sell 20 per­cent of their rooms for res­i­den­tial hous­ing, sub­ject to ap­proval by “lo­cal, in­de­pen­dent coun­cils.”

Though the Levin Law does not spec­ify beach­front con­struc­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups are alarmed that Is­rael’s Mediter­ranean coast­line could be­come a vast con­struc­tion site with limited pub­lic ac­cess.

In a state­ment, the Tourism Min­istry em­pha­sized the plan “pre­serves the author­ity of the plan­ning in­sti­tu­tions to pre­vent un­con­trolled con­struc­tion along the beaches.” When the plan was ap­proved by the Fi­nance Min­istry’s Na­tional Plan­ning and Build­ing Com­mit­tee on April 6, the Fi­nance Min­istry promised that the plan would keep “con­struc­tion 100 me­ters away from the water, pro­tect free pub­lic ac­cess for the length of the beach, pre­serve arche­o­log­i­cal and na­ture sites, and ex­pand the pos­si­bil­i­ties for so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties like sports and recre­ation.”

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Tourism Min­istry, the law will per­mit 15,000 ho­tel rooms to be built in the next five years, and a fur­ther 12,000 within a decade.

With 27,000 more ho­tel rooms and a stream­lined con­struc­tion ap­proval process, the min­istry hopes to slash ac­com­mo­da­tion costs.

“The plan’s ef­fi­ciency will lead to a dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber of ho­tel rooms and a sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tion to the amount of hous­ing units, and even­tu­ally a de­crease in prices by 20 per­cent,” the min­istry said.

Is­rael’s stag­nat­ing tourism sec­tor strug­gles to com­pete with lower prices in other east­ern Mediter­ranean des­ti­na­tions, in­clud­ing Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.

In the past decade, the min­istry re­ported that only 3,000 ho­tel rooms were built across the coun­try, in­creas­ing sup­ply by six per­cent. This lack of con­struc­tion led to a 70% in­crease in ho­tel prices be­tween 2004 and 2015.

Some Knes­set mem­bers and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists were out­raged by the Levin Law’s ap­proval. Among those op­posed was Zion­ist Union MK Yael Co­hen-Paran, who lam­basted the plan for at­tempt­ing to “by­pass coastal en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion laws in the guise of ad­vanc­ing the coun­try’s ho­tel in­dus­try.”

“Ap­proval for 20% of the ho­tel to be for pri­vate units is, in ac­tu­al­ity, com­plete ap­proval for homes for the wealthy,” she said. Co­henParan doubted that the com­mit­tee re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing Is­rael’s beaches would ever op­pose items ap­proved by the new law.

The So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Na­ture in Is­rael lamented that “Is­rael’s beaches are be­ing sold to the high­est bid­der.”

“Once again, the Knes­set has failed to pro­tect one of the prop­er­ties most im­por­tant to the Is­raeli pub­lic,” SPNI spokesman Dov Green­blatt wrote.

Tourism Min­is­ter Levin in­sisted the law is win-win for tourists and Is­raelis.

“The law pre­serves the author­ity of the plan­ning in­sti­tu­tions to pre­vent un­con­trolled con­struc­tion along the beaches. This rep­re­sents an im­me­di­ate transformation in the ho­tel in­dus­try, will gen­er­ate con­struc­tion of thou­sands of ho­tel rooms with an em­pha­sis on bud­get ho­tels and will fi­nally lower the costs of va­ca­tion­ing in Is­rael. Is­rael’s cit­i­zens de­serve the right to take a va­ca­tion at rea­son­able costs. In ad­di­tion, Is­rael’s abil­ity to com­pete in the global tourism in­dus­try will in­crease dra­mat­i­cally and this will at­tract hun­dreds of thou­sands of ad­di­tional tourists ev­ery year, which will in turn make a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy and to the work­force. The pol­icy of the Is­rael Tourism Min­istry is clear – we will not al­low ho­tels to be built that dam­age the shore­line, as was the case un­til now. The pro­gram has one ob­jec­tive – to re­duce va­ca­tion costs once and for all.”

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

THE LOBBY of Jerusalem’s Wal­dorf As­to­ria Ho­tel un­der con­struc­tion be­fore it opened in April 2014.

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