A well-known restaurant in the town of Abu Gosh near Jerusalem came under fire Wednesday for billing a group of eight Chinese tourists some NIS 16,500 ($4,400) for a meal.
The final bill, circulated by the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, included NIS 4,000 ($1,066) for hire of a private room, NIS 5,900 ($1,573) for alcohol and NIS 3,150 ($840) for main courses, as well as a NIS 1,500 ($400) service charge, despite the fact that the bill said that service was not included.
“The Association decided to make this incident public in order to illustrate the importance of fair and polite treatment of tourists who come to Israel and are an important sector of the country’s economy,” said Yossi Fattal, CEO of the tour operators association, according to the business daily Globes.
“Incoming tourism represents about 15% of total exports of services by the State of Israel, and is an important generator of employment in the periphery.”
The Abu Gosh Restaurant is co-owned by the town’s top celebrity, Jawdat Ibrahim, who, during a six-year stint in the US, won $17.5 million in the Illinois State Lottery.
Known both for his philanthropy and his successful 2010 attempt to set the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest hummus dish (his weighed in at 4,090 kg), Ibrahim has defended the bill, saying he though they should have paid more.
He claimed the tourists booked for a Friday — one of the busiest days of the week — and demanded that the restaurant be closed to the public.
He added that the tourists stayed for nine hours, from 3 p.m. until midnight, drank so much that they became drunk and rowdy, and asked for 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of stuffed mutton and other dishes, taking the leftovers with them.
“The truth is that I thought that they should pay much more, since I had no other diners that day,” Ibrahim said. “They enjoyed themselves and thanked me, and now, two weeks later, they’re trying to besmirch us.”
“This was a realistic cost for the meal. We have meals for NIS 20 (about $5.30) as well, and there are meals with a cost like this. If you analyze the total, you will realize that it is not a lot for what they received.”
Yossi Fattal disagreed. After checking with the group’s tour agent, he said the tourists arrived at 7 p.m. and stayed for around four hours, received a private room while the rest of the restaurant remained open to the public, that the alcohol served had been put on the tables and was not ordered by the Chinese. Nor, he said, were they served 30 kilograms of meat.
“There may be a billion Chinese, but they may not all be suckers. These Chinese said they would not be back and would not recommend their friends to visit Israel,” Fattal said.
“Naive customers are a very shaky basis business model, and by behaving this way, we are with our own hands destroying the budding potential of the Chinese market for Israel,” he added.
The Tourism Ministry is trying hard to tap into the potentially massive Chinese market, which already sends around 47,000 visitors to Israel annually, Globes said. Around a third are business people.