55: “Alone, Together” Part V - Enjoy Your Stay

Around the world, the tourism industry essentially dried up during the pandemic. But in Israel there was one category of hotels - the so-called “Corona Hotels” - that actually thrived. And depending on whom you ask, they were either a post-apocalyptic heaven or an exit-less hell. 

In March 2020, Israel - like many other countries around the world - closed its borders. Since then, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics, international tourism has dropped by some 99%. Hotel rooms emptied out, busy lobbies went silent, and those famous Israeli breakfast buffets remained uneaten. While you might assume this spelled the end for most hospitality establishments in Israel, there were actually some hotels that managed not only to stay open, but indeed to stay full. These were hotels leased by the government to serve as “Corona Hotels” and host two distinct populations: Israelis who had already contracted the virus and were waiting until they were no longer contagious and could safely return home, and Israelis returning from abroad who needed to make sure they weren’t bringing coronavirus into the country. 

Corona Hotels brought complete strangers into close, and prolonged, contact. Unsurprisingly, many of the “guests” were from segments of the population that don’t typically mix and mingle. At times this melting-pot-like experiment created friction, but it also allowed for unusual interactions to occur. Forced to cohabitate, people had to learn to get along, and—in some cases at least—even respect each other. 

Our episode today examines two different Corona Hotel experiences - one a heartwarming tale of coexistence, the other a dark account of agony.    

The episode was mixed by Sela Waisblum and scored by Joel Shupack with music from Blue Dot Sessions and sound-design help from Yochai Maital. The end song, “Bomba,” is by Hadag Nahash and Johnny Goldstein.

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