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Meet me in the lounge: This is how foreign investors can visit Israel these days

In the Coronavirus era, businesses were hit with lockdowns and travel bans. Here’s how three Israeli institutions opened its skies to encourage business in the tech industry

James Spiro 19:4913.07.20
The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic might have stopped air travel in its tracks, but that hasn’t stopped Startup Nation from finding new ways to do business with countries around the world.

 

Tucked away in Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport rests one of its most interesting and luxurious rooms currently hosting discreet meetings. The room, referred to as ‘The Lounge,’ contains three bedrooms and a meeting room - designed to host business leaders and investors from overseas during lockdowns implemented during Covid-19.

 

The Lounge. Photo: David Kalaf The Lounge. Photo: David Kalaf

 

The Lounge is owned and operated by Fattal Hotels Group - one of Israel’s biggest hotel chains. Along with the Ministry of Interior’s Population and Immigration Authority and the Ministry of Health, the three organizations work together to make sure businesses can still meet clients and customers face to face - albeit under more restrictions than usual.

 

The Lounge operates out of Fattal Terminal, a VIP terminal that was opened in April 2019 to save well to-do passengers the need to rub elbows with the general flying public.

 

“How do you get into Israel and skip the immigration? It’s not easy and took a couple of weeks to figure out the best and easiest option to enable these face to face meetings,” said Avi Luvton, the Senior Director of Asia Pacific Operations, International Collaborations Division at the Israeli Innovation Authority (IIA). For as long as the organizations have been conspiring to host the foreign visitors, the IIA has been facilitating them strategically.

 

Businesses understand the core value of sitting face to face with potential buyers or invested partners. Not wanting Israel to fall behind in the global economy, the institutions arranged a plan as follows:

 

First, the company sends The Lounge an application form including essential information about the company and the employee. If The Lounge wants to host the guest, they forward the application to the interior ministry, which has the power to grant a tourist visa. If approved, they send it to the flyer and he or she can arrive in Israel.

 

According to Luvton, once landing on the runway, the visitor is discretely taken to The Lounge and bypasses all immigration checkpoints. Once inside, he or she is obligated to follow the Ministry of Health guidelines.

 

Generally, these visits last a day or two - depending on the type of meeting and the size of the company. While the Israel Innovation Authority would not comment on which companies are using such a service, Luvton laughed and called them “quite mature” in nature.

 

Questions start to arise about the nature that these meetings might take if they continue under the radar without a record. Face to face meetings in The Lounge might be considered a luxurious alternative during Covid-19, but the appeal of its discretion might remain irresistible even once those restrictions are lifted.

 

“Fortunately, I’ve never faced any case of corruption or anything,” Luvton continued. “So, you can never know. We have not faced any negative implications (so far). I don’t think that if we change the meeting location, this should change something... I’ve never thought about this.”

 

It is unknown how many companies have used The Lounge as a venue or if such a practice exists in other countries.