Little fallout expected from UK travel warning

Caution against placing passports in Israelis’ hands ‘disgusting, but won’t make a difference, says agency CEO.

By RON FRIEDMAN
March 24, 2010 20:58
4 minute read.
Foreign Office Travel Advisory about Israel

Foreign Office Travel Advisory 311. (photo credit: .)

 
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British and Israeli travel professionals speculate that the travel advisory issued by the British Foreign Office, warning citizens against handing their passports to Israeli officials for fear they will be copied and forged, will have no significant effect on UK tourism to Israel.

On Tuesday the Foreign Office changed its official travel advice for British citizens going to Israel to warn them about the risk of their passport details being compromised. The warning that was published on the ministry’s Web site and e-mailed to travel companies reads as follows: “UK passport holders should be aware of a recent Serious Organised Crime Agency investigation into the misuse of UK passports in the murder of Mahmud al-Mabhuh [sic] in Dubai on 19 January 2010. The SOCA investigation found circumstantial evidence of Israeli involvement in the fraudulent use of British passports. This has raised the possibility that your passport details could be captured for improper uses while your passport is out of your control. The risk applies in particular to passports without biometric security features. We recommend that you only hand your passport over to third parties including Israeli officials when absolutely necessary.”

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“I think it’s absolutely disgusting, but it won’t make one iota of difference,” said David Segal, the founder and CEO of West End Travel, a travel company that specializes in travel arrangements to Israel.

“We book reservations to Israel every 15 minutes and so far I have not heard of a single cancellation or concern from our clients…. People who want to go to Israel, want to go to Israel, and they will not be put off by someone telling them to be careful.”

Segal, who characterized the travel warning as “rubbing salt in the wounds” following the expulsion of a senior Israeli diplomat, said he believed the warning would be lifted in a short time and the whole issue would blow over in a few days.

“Some people might be worried [about] handing their passport over at the airport or ask for it not to be removed from their sight, but even that will last only a short while,” said Segal.

Anthony Gothold, CEO of Travelink, another London-based firm that specializes in organized tours to Israel, said it may still be too early to tell the effect of the warning. “None of my clients have mentioned anything about it, neither Jewish or Christian groups, but it may be that the penny hasn’t dropped yet.”

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Gothold said that it was never good for business when Israel is in the news, because it often displayed Israel in a bad light as a dangerous place, but that the effect was not dramatic.

“A group may lose some people here and there, but I don’t believe whole groups will cancel,” he said.

Gothold said he was particularly disturbed by the fact that the Foreign Office sent out e-mails with the travel warning to all their contacts. “They send out e-mails about travel warnings every now and then, but usually it is about safety or security concerns, never over something political like this.”

Gothold said it would be difficult for travelers to heed the advisory, since tourists hand over their passports so often.

“All hotels photocopy visitors’ passports so they can give them a VAT exemption,” said Gothold.

Tlalim Incoming Tourism to Israel operates organized tours for tourists from all over the world. Adrian Simons, CEO of Authentic Israel, Tlalim’s international brand, said that if the warning would have any negative effect it would be on Christian tour groups and not Jewish ones.

“Non-Jews who travel here have enough concerns already. A person who watches television over there sees Israel as a war zone as it is. Following the story surrounding the Dubai assassination, they have slightly more reasons to worry,” said Simons, who is originally from the United Kingdom. “The British take the Foreign Ministry’s travel advisories seriously,” he added.

Len Judes, Chairman of the Israeli-British Chamber of Commerce, said the episode would have no significant effect on business relations either.

“Businessmen do business with Israel for good reason and they are sophisticated enough to look at the big picture. People know the situation Israel is in and has been in for many years. I don’t believe it will harm business at all.”

Judes said he had held conversations with British businessmen all day and not one of them had mentioned the travel warning.

“Obviously it is unfortunate, but the relationships are good and things will be ironed out quickly,” he said.

Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov’s spokesman said his office was not responding to questions about the British travel advisory and refused to speculate on the possible effect it might have on British tourism to Israel. In 2009 more than 170,000 people visited Israel from the United Kingdom, making it Israel’s fourth largest tourist source following the United States, Russia and China.

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