GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hoping to make enough money to cover the costs of obtaining licenses for their resorts, owners of beach resorts in the Gaza Strip are looking forward to the summer season. Unlike previous years, these owners had to pay thousands of dollars this year, with some opting for merging their resorts with adjacent ones to share the license fees.
This was the case for Ghoroub, Houssam and Alaa Resort, which is made up of three separate resorts that were forced to merge due to higher license fees paid to the Gaza municipality in a bid to dodge potential losses amid the difficult economic circumstances in Gaza. The current economic situation is also reflected in the prices of services offered by the resorts.
Ismail Nashbat, the manager of Ghoroub, Houssam and Alaa Resort, told Al-Monitor, “In granting licenses for beach resorts, the municipality of Gaza adopts a bidding system in which the highest bidder is awarded the right to build a resort, regardless of the person’s seniority, as we have been in the area for decades and have built a reputation there.”
He said, “The municipality set a minimum fee of $28,000 in the area where our resort is located — Sheikh Ijlin. As a result, we agreed to a merger with the two resorts next to us in order to share the license fee. We entered the bidding under the name of the new resort. But due to the competition, we had to raise our bid to $30,000 for fear of losing our position and reputation.”
Although the economic situation in the Gaza Strip is deteriorating, Nashbat said that obtaining a license comes at a higher cost each year, while the municipality is not offering any explanation for that. Two years ago, the price was set at $25,000, and less than $1,000 before Hamas came to power.
Nashbat explained that the resorts were forced to merge for fear of not making any profit, especially after noticing a stagnation during last year’s summer season. According to Nashbat, the resorts had no other options. He argued that higher license fees will necessarily entail higher service prices, as it is hard to leave the prices intact.
Nashbat noted that entering a resort is free of charge, but two people have to order 20 shekels ($5) worth of food and beverages as a minimum. The order’s value increases with the number of people, as most customers order the minimum.
He added, “By imposing higher license fees and reducing the number of resorts, the municipality aims to offer people more beach space given the economic circumstances. But at the same time, [the municipality] does not offer services at these [public] beaches. Thus vacationers [prefer] to visit our resort to benefit from our public facilities such as restrooms.”
Nashbat also pointed out that mergers affected the number of workers, as there were 100 workers in the three resorts before the merger, but now only 40 work at the new resort. He said that a worker now earns 30 shekels ($8) per day, while they used to earn double this amount. Nashbat hopes that the new resort will see more customers than last year.
In this respect, Ahmad Ismail, a Gaza citizen who visits resorts, said that the merger had no impact on him, because he is still sitting in the same place he has sat for years. Ismail noted that there was a slight increase in the price of services.
Mohammad al-Nounou, another Gaza citizen, said he was not satisfied with the services offered by the municipality, arguing that the beach lacks public facilities, leading him to go to a resort.
Abdul-Rahim Abu-Qambaz, the director of the Health and Environment Department at the municipality of Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the municipality made preparations for the summer season by setting up rescue towers, organizing parking spots on al-Rasheed Street, which is the sea road, in addition to licensing a limited number of resorts. According to Abu-Qambaz, the municipality took into consideration the social classes in the Gaza Strip by leaving 75% of the beach unleased.
“Due to the tough economic circumstances, we only leased four resorts compared to 15 previously,” he said.
Concerning the increase in license fees this year, Abu-Qambaz explained that location and space were the main factors in determining the price of the license, indicating that touristic and heavily populated zones are more expensive than remote ones.
He said that leasing fees only cover 10% of the expenses allocated for the beach, as the municipality hires 40 cleaners and 30 lifeguards throughout the season, noting that resorts also benefit from the services the municipality provides.
Abu-Qambaz revealed that three teams are charged with organizing and looking after the beach around the clock, including beach rangers, municipality police and health and environment inspectors.
“If we were after financial gain, we would have licensed 20 resorts. But our aim is to relax regulation on the beach, taking into consideration the people’s economic situation,” he said.
As for the merging resorts, Abu-Qambaz said it is up to the owners, and the municipality deals with them as one resort. He asked why one would lease when one can’t afford the price.
As usual, citizens in Gaza are scapegoats. Between the increase in resort license fees and the drop in their number, and amid the lack of public facilities along the beach, Gazans must bear the cost of increasing resort rentals.
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