The Travel Advisor: Mexico, Portugal, Thessaloniki – 2020 travel trends

There is no need for prophecy to decipher the travel trends of 2020-the writing is already on the wall. Head East to discover the first regularly scheduled nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Japan.

Overall view of the Tagus river bridge and the city of Lisbon, Portugal (photo credit: REUTERS)
Overall view of the Tagus river bridge and the city of Lisbon, Portugal
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Time waits for no one and in spite of the massive increase in tourism to Israel, the majority of us want to get away from our pressurized, politicized and packed country. Sure we could head South with the thongs of tourists milling around the Dead Sea and Eilat. We could head to our northern borders, hoping that snow will dust the Golan Heights. Or we can venture abroad, experience firsthand Miraitowa and Someity, the mascots of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Perhaps its steeping one in the Jewish Quarter in Casablanca, realizing this is the start of a beautiful friendship. Many will be tempted to not only gaze at the Taj Mahal but to meander through the Chandni Chowk market, a maze of lanes crowded with shops selling an extraordinary variety of items and food, the noise and crowds are a quintessential part of any Indian market.
There is no need for prophecy to decipher the travel trends of 2020-the writing is already on the wall. Head East to discover the first regularly scheduled nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Japan. A few minutes after Shabbat ends, El Al on March 21st will take to the heavens on a brand new Dreamliner on an 11-hour journey to Tokyo. Demand among Israelis for Japan as both a vacation and business destination has grown in recent years. 40,000 Israelis visited Japan in 2018, while 20,000 Japanese travelers came to Israel. The numbers of Israelis visiting Japan is likely to increase significantly in 2020 with Tokyo hosting the Olympic Games.
For the first time since 1974, Israel will be sending a team sport to the Olympic Games – this time in baseball. On July 24, 24 Israeli baseball players will march in the opening ceremony. The Israel Baseball team will be the first team sport to represent Israel at the Olympic Games since 1976. El Al will even earn a €750,000 grant from Israel’s Tourism Ministry when it inaugurates its Tel Aviv-Tokyo flights, under the plan to reward airlines for starting direct routes between Israel and cities not previously served by any airline.
El Al has set economy prices starting at $998 and business seats commencing at $2999, but expect other airlines to market lower fares. When Air India started flying nonstop from Tel Aviv to Delhi, airfares plummeted over 28%. This same downward trend in airline fares occurred when Cathay Pacific ended El Al’s monopoly on nonstop flights to Hong Kong.
India is on my list for a variety of reasons. Start with the fact that United resumed nonstop flights to Delhi from Newark, meaning Delta will start flying from JFK. From Israel, Air India’s entrance to the market has shaken up the industry. El Al bemoans the fact that they can fly over Arab countries but the reality that prices dropped by more than 50% meant a huge influx in tourism both for leisure as well as business.
From India most of the tourists coming to Israel are entrepreneurs and businesspeople seeking local partners or meeting with established business partners newly cultivated. Israelis tourism runs the gamut from the backpacker to the yoga practitioner, to the businessman dealing with his software team. Defense firms salivate at the large Indian marketplace and the agribusiness industry continues to make inroads. Violent protests over citizenship laws won’t dim the demand expected in 2020. Like tourism to Mexico, the threat – real or imagined – of violence no longer impedes the tourism industry.
Consider the East Cape of Mexico which saw some recent growth – even greater growth awaits the area in 2020. On a dreamy stretch of coast between San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas has been nicknamed as the Golden Corridor of Los Cabos. From timeshare properties to over-the-top deluxe hotels, Mexico is attracting a new type of tourism. Time seemingly stands still on this coastal stretch, which swells like a benevolent shark from the outskirts of San José del Cabo to Los Barriles and the beautiful Bay of Palms. Fishing has always been the chief attraction for visitors to the region, and the East Cape was the site of some of the peninsula’s early fly-in fishing resorts in the 1950s.
The fish-rich water of the Sea of Cortés are still a big draw, particularly for annual bill and gamefish tournaments. World-class conditions also exist, seasonally at least, for surfing, kiteboarding and windsurfing. The snorkeling and diving is also spectacular, while the national marine sanctuary is home to a stupendous collection of living coral reef. The Americans may golf, while the Israelis tend to focus more on scuba diving. From Israel flying nonstop on United Airlines or El Al to San Francisco allows an easy connecting flight down to Cabo San Lucas. Suffice it to say that while one could attempt speaking Portuguese, basic Mexican will be far more appreciated.
Portugal will also be a ‘hot’ place in Europe next year. The history of the Jews in Portugal reaches back over two thousand years and is directly related to Sephardi history. Both individuals and groups are setting out on a journey of discovery through towns, cities and villages, of a heritage rich in memories evoking the Jewish presence in Portugal. With TAP, the national carrier of Portugal, along with El Al now flying nonstop to Lisbon, the growth of visitors from Israel is expected to be well north of 20%.
Coupled with the fact that 2,200 Israelis apply for Portuguese citizenship every month, mainly because of the business opportunities in real estate this provides. Apparently, all it takes for an Israeli to be eligible for Portuguese citizenship is approval from the Portuguese Jewish community. Like any other visitor to Portugal, the Israeli tourist encounters stunning vistas, castles, palaces and sad fado folksongs. But still smashing of plate ware is frowned upon.

IF YOU WANT to smash plates, then move over to Greece and consider Thessaloniki. The second largest city in Greece is gearing up for a record influx of Israeli with daily flights. No longer isolated as a summer destination, tourists have discovered her charms year round. The local Jewish community, before the Holocaust, was the largest such community in Greece, and the Thessaloniki port used to be closed on Shabbat! Before World War II, there were 56,000 Jews living in Thessaloniki, but only 1,950 survived the Holocaust. Today, the Jewish community has approximately 1,500 members. Combining both historical sites as well as phenomenal views, expect the quick get away with very reasonable prices to keep the flights full and the hotels humming with Hebrew.
In fact there are few places you can travel these days without hearing Hebrew. Our vagabond youth can be found in every nook and cranny. Israeli restaurants can be located among sand swept beaches and the top of mountains. The number one country visited in 2020 for Israelis will be the same as 2019: the United States of America. Its infrastructure allows some of the best skiing in the world as well as some of the most gorgeous sunsets. Seeing the entire country in one visit is nigh impossible and first timers tend to focus on the East or West Coasts with many opting for a flight to her southern border to engage in their childhood fantasy. Hundreds of thousands of books have been written about her cuisine which can best be described as a melting pot of regional flavors.
You will need to manage your expectations as you won’t be able to see the entire county. The locals are very friendly, exceedingly so in many places. Keep in mind that obesity runs rampant and you’ll notice the portions are quite large. Tipping is customary in this country and tips make up a large percentage of some service employees’ salaries. The weather will vary dramatically from place to place and truth be told you should avoid the busiest travel time.
Anti-smoking measures have been implemented in several countries, but certain city and states in this place have some of the strictest measures against smoking in the world. In many of this country’s cities, smoking is banned in bars, clubs, restaurants, and most indoor spaces, like malls. In my favorite locale, the smoking ban has been extended to beaches, public parks, healthcare facilities and private residences.
I would be remiss in not pointing out that “Island time” and other fluid concepts of time do not go over well there. If someone tells you to meet them 8 p.m., you should meet them at 8 p.m. or arrive a few minutes early. These inhabitants take punctuality very seriously and it is considered rude to be late. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to get someplace, especially if you’re not familiar with the area as unexpected delays can happen, such as heavy traffic.
Unlike what you may have heard in some cinema verite films, locals take your speech seriously and may feel insulted if you use certain curse or derogatory words associated with specific races and ethnic groups. Be sensitive, aware of your surroundings, and try to use the vocabulary they use in their everyday lives – for example, “How are you?” instead of “What’s up?” unless you have heard it used regularly in the region where you’re traveling. In their most southern hemisphere they have different vocabulary for certain words so take note of them, but use them with care.
Traveling in Israel, I have noticed that stop lights and “No Parking” signs are mere suggestions for drivers. Not so in this locale. Traffic and parking laws are well-enforced in most rural and metropolitan abodes. For example, drivers must come to a full stop at a red light and remain stopped until the light turns green and drivers should obey the speed limit. It should be noted that contrary to the UK and South Africa, these denizens drive on the right side of the roads.
The unwritten rule of travel anywhere in the world is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” While traveling in this abode, DO be sure to smile, ask questions, say “please” and “thank you,” and be patient. In almost all cases, your kindness will be rewarded by locals who want to show you the best of their cities and towns.
The largest profit center for El Al, chased for dominance by both United Airlines & Delta, American Airlines will initiate nonstop flights from Dallas next fall bringing the competition to unfettered heights. The European carriers, along with Turkish & Russian airlines fight daily for every seat to the US offering a variety of fares from budget economy class seats, to economy plus, Premium, Business and First Class seats. Algorithms are written looking at load factors and revenue managements, fiercely guarding their mechanisms and usually quite cognizant of their competitors.
This is not a new trend for 2020 and whether El Al discovers returning to fly to Chicago this spring will be the panacea to her bottom line remains to be seen but in our industry, the US remains the bellwether of our industry.
When the US sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold. Travel helps us to understand the meaning of life and it has helped us become better people. Each time we travel, we see the world with new eyes. In the words of Benjamin Disraeli: “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.”

Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments, email him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il