Prices in Gaza’s tourism sector have become even more expensive than world-renowned destinations like Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.
Vacation chalets, consisting of a private tiny house with a swimming pool and garden, cost up to $800 a day, or half the price, or a little less for 10 or 12 hours, according to Ibrahim Khaled, the founder of Naseem’s booking app Gaza Strip. But despite the price, given the pollution on Gaza’s beaches, they have become very popular with families looking for a getaway.
The fees for the territory’s few hotels are higher than other international hotels, and most middle-class Gaza residents cannot afford them. The four-star Hotel Mashtal in western Gaza City offers bed and breakfast and internet access for $85. This price was considered ridiculously high for residents of Gaza compared to hotels of the same class outside Gaza.
“We do not have an independent Palestinian economy that would allow the tourism industry to develop,” Khaled said. “Tourism companies in the West Bank are posting offers on social media for trips to Turkey and Jordan that include travel tickets, days’ accommodation and food at prices lower than renting a chalet for a day or two in Gaza. West Bank residents enjoy more freedom of movement than residents of the besieged enclave.”
The small chalets in the Gaza Strip offer privacy and comfort, Khaled said, but their electricity comes from private generators, which are expensive. Prices for 11 hours range from 300 shekels [$95] up to 1,300 shekels [$413]and a whole day is twice as much.
The head of the Palestinian Committee for Restaurants, Hotels and Tourist Services, Abdo Ghoneim, said that there are 520 tourist facilities in Gaza, employing about 7,500 workers and supporting more than 35,000 people in Gaza.
He told Al-Monitor: “All of these facilities use private generators to get electricity. Spare parts and equipment are very expensive due to taxes levied by the PA and Gaza government, not to mention the cost of freight.”
The shipments come through Israeli-controlled crossings, he said, and are “double taxed at the crossings by the two governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are also repair fees and other charges.”
Since the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1993, tourism projects have thrived on Gaza’s Corniche. But the coming to power of Hamas and the subsequent Israeli blockade in 2007 seriously undermined the sector. Ghoneim believes the lack of independent border crossings and posts has pushed up the cost of living in Gaza.
On a related note, fuel prices in Palestine are among the highest in the Arab world, with a liter priced at $1.93. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip still receives about half of its electricity needs.
Moamen Abu Mustafa operates a beachfront chalet project and holiday home in Sheikh Ajlin, west of Gaza. He told Al-Monitor: “The high prices in Gaza’s tourism sector compared to neighboring countries are logical. We live in a closed environment, besieged politically and economically, and life has become very expensive. But there are people who still want to go on vacation.”
For his part, Munir al-Achcar, who owns a chalet resort in northern Gaza, noted that chalets are the most popular local tourist destinations for Gaza residents in summer and winter. “We pay high operating costs given the shortage of fuel and equipment for the besieged enclave, particularly swimming pools and lighting equipment,” he told Al-Monitor.
Gaza is more expensive than countries like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, he said, “because it’s a city in the line of fire and with unstable security conditions. Some equipment costs more than 500 percent of the original price, with Israel controlling border crossings and disallowing many goods on the pretext of dual use for military purposes.”
“Despite the high prices, some people still go to tourist facilities because they need to let go and forget their daily worries. Also, swimming pools are cleaner than the sea,” said Mohammad Muhanna, 34, father of three.
“Sometimes we go on short breaks as couples and sometimes we go as families. We all know that it is very expensive compared to neighboring countries. With what we pay here in one day, we can spend a few days in Egypt. But we have to work with what we have at our disposal,” Muhanna told Al-Monitor.
In the meantime, many can no longer afford the luxury of a holiday. Ayman Nasr, 40, who earns 1,200 shekels (about US$377) a month in a food factory, cannot take his children to a restaurant or a hut.
He told Al-Monitor: “We all need a short break to forget our daily worries and have a good time in a resort or in a chalet, but I can’t afford that. Basic necessities are already expensive in Gaza. Some families can’t even afford food.”
Recently, Uday Qudeih began organizing trips from the Gaza Strip to Sharm el-Sheikh. But that also has its price. It offers rides for US$750 including transportation fees from the Rafah Junction to Sharm el-Sheikh and round-trip tickets exceeding US$200 per person to Cairo.
On the other hand, an offer for Egyptians within Egypt at $115 for four days in a hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh is much cheaper than Qudeih’s offer.