Herzliya beach 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
What a difference a week makes.
To the pleasure of hotel managers and the dismay of some local beachgoers, Tel Aviv seemed for much of August to be hosting half the population of Paris.
The vast majority of French vacationers returned home over the past week, returning Tel Aviv - briefly, at least - to full-time residents.
But with Rosh Hashana less than two weeks away, early September represents only a short break before the autumn holidays bring their annual wave of visitors.
The Israel Hotel Association is taking advantage of the brief lull to host its sixth Dead Sea Convention for overseas travel agents, bringing in tourism promoters from Europe, the United States, Canada and parts of South America.
IHA officials are proudly emphasizing the first-time arrival this year of travel agents from China and Russia, where rapid economic growth is enabling ever larger portions of the countries' populations to take overseas vacations.
The Tourism Ministry is hungrily eying tourists from both countries, particularly Russians, who will have their visa requirement for travel here canceled this month if Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich gets his way.
The Dead Sea Convention, co-sponsored by El Al and the Tamar Regional Council, will highlight the area's historical sites and leisure offerings, as well as "health tourism" options made possible by the Dead Sea's unique climate and mineral mix.
Where to perform 'slichot' and eat on Rosh Hashana
Pop star Madonna knows where she'll be performing tashlich this year. Do you? The singer, who will spend her second Rosh Hashana in Israel this month, will participate in the traditional High Holy Days ceremony on the shores of the Mediterranean, where she'll join other participants on her Kabbalah Center trip in throwing bread crumbs into the water. The ceremony, a symbolic casting off of sins accumulated over the past year, is just part of the season-long process of requesting forgiveness.
For non-pop stars still struggling to decide where they'd like to perform slichot, or forgiveness prayers, Mini Israel is offering a solution: the entire country. The Latrun park, which features 360 models of historical and religious sites around Israel, is promoting special slichot tours of its grounds, where visitors can, within a short period, visit places of religious importance including Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of Machpela. Those unable to visit the actual Western Wall in Jerusalem this year can place private messages to the Almighty in a collection box next to a replica of the site - which, like the park's other replicas, is precisely 4 percent the size of the real thing. Visitors' notes left at Mini Israel are delivered to the original Western Wall every Thursday. Organized slichot tours of Mini Israel should be arranged in advance, park officials note.
Elsewhere in the tourism industry, the Dan hotel chain is preparing for one of its biggest culinary undertakings of the year - providing dinner for more than 7,000 guests on the first night of Rosh Hashana, September 12. The chain expects to reach 100% capacity for the holiday, with half its guests coming from abroad and the other half Israelis using the holiday as a chance for a family vacation.
Airlines offering holiday and pre-holiday fares
Named North America's best airline last month by industry monitor Skytrax, Air Canada is offering holiday deals to cities across United States. Flying through the company's Toronto hub, passengers can reach New York, Washington and Boston for $1,141, and can fly to Los Angeles and San Francisco for $1,375.
Israir, meanwhile, is promoting last-minute pre-holiday trips to Eilat. Those willing to fly next Saturday and return just before the start of Rosh Hashana can fly from Ben-Gurion Airport to Eilat and stay for four nights at the city's Dan Hotel for NIS 1,300 per person, 50% less than the same package during the holiday.
El Al changing schedule after the holidays
The end of the fall holidays marks the start of the winter travel season for El Al, which is using the recent addition of two new 777s to its fleet to add extra flights to all four continents to which it flies.
The airline will offer an extra trip per week to Warsaw, Johannesburg, Milan, Toronto, Beijing, Bombay and Sofia starting at the end of October, and is emphasizing upgraded business class service for the season, a period when vacation travel diminishes and business travel increases.