Today’s Travel Scenario:
How has the current climate impacted the industry?
By Susie Davidson
BOSTON - “Travel is an industry which is always directly influenced by world events such as war, natural disasters, political unrest, economic conditions both here and abroad, and as we have seen, terrorism,” says Peter Levine, Marketing Director at Grand Circle Travel in Boston.
“Middle Eastern travel is particularly vulnerable to these and other factors, given the historical and religious significance of the region. Although there is no way to predict the duration of the present conflict, past cataclysmic events in the Middle East have resulted in travel dropoffs lasting about six to 12 months. Of course, this can also be affected by factors such as personal reasons for travel, the degree of crisis, and the presence of travel advisory warnings.”
How does this translate to Israeli travel? As we well know, the impact is real.
“The word ‘travel’,” says Shimshon (Sam) Erenfeld of Brookline’s Bler Travel, “has become synonymous with terror, fear, caution and security warnings.” The reality? “The media usually creates an impression that the situation is far worse than it really is. I just came back from a long visit to Israel,” he reports, “and found that people go on with their lives. They rationalize: ‘we can’t let the terror win,’ ‘statistically it's more dangerous to drive a car,’ or ‘the increased security will help.’” (Most stores and public places do body searches upon entry, he says.)
Travelers are still purchasing tickets daily for Israel, for business or personal travel. “Some,” he says, “have been there before, and know the difference between news and reality.” He mentions the recently publicized Marriott boycott. (The international hotel chain allegedly sent a February 2002 letter to a Jerusalem travel agent addressed to "Yerushalaim, Occupied Territories." It has since been confirmed by the ADL that the letter originated from the Switzerland-based International Air Transport Association, which has apologized and taken full responsibility.)
Yet some, Erenfeld acknowledges, are opting for non-Israeli Jewish sites or European pilgrimage tours. “People travel for vacations, to get away, or to celebrate occasions like bar mitzvahs. In the past year we have seen that instead of the often long-time dream of Israel, some are visiting Poland, Prague, the Baltic States, Spain and similar places with ties to Jewish history, for both education and recreation, either independently or in group tours.” Although percentages are difficult to ascertain, he says tour operators report the same trend.
“This year we are doing more trips closer to home: more Canada, more Mexico, even U.S. travel, and ocean cruises,” concurs Levine. "People often shift their plans during times of uncertainty.”
“What we are seeing,” says Raphi Bloom of Jewishroutes.com, which calls itself the most comprehensive Jewish travel site on the web, “is a huge increase in kosher and Jewish travel offerings for kosher cruises, exotic tours or heritage trips, from Alaska to Europe to the Far East, with, sadly, almost minimal travel to Israel.
“We get a lot of hysterical questions from U.S. Jews on the 'anti-Semitism sweeping across Europe'. We recommend taking certain precautions when traveling in cities with large Muslim populations, but we encourage people to go nonetheless. U.S. travel to Europe has declined somewhat, but Europeans are still traveling, and there are a large number of popular European kosher summer vacation resorts.
“Some larger Israeli tour operators have taken to running resorts for summer and chagim (holidays) in Europe.” A self-described online travel magazine where tour operators and resorts advertise hotels, packages and tours, percentages are again elusive.
One thing, however, seems clear. It is vital to continue to support Israel, in good times as well as bad.