The Serbys, the Sebsos and Lonni Sterling, who reside in Boynton Beach, Florida, have at least one thing in common. They are among the many who feel that the time has come to spread their wings and travel.
Many Americans who have been sidelined since early 2020 are now gearing up for, what they term, “the once-in-a lifetime” visit to Israel.
Not only are those mentioned here waiting for their trip, but, according to Chad Martin, director of the Israel Government Tourist Office in New York, travel to Israel is up two and three times. Moreover, “last-minute travelers” are rushing to book their flight. Airlines “are going crazy” handling the volume of reservations coming in, he said.
Looking forward to increased travel in the months ahead, Martin believes tourism to Israel from the US could realistically reach 80% of pre-pandemic figures.
“June (and October) will be the telltale months,” he said, noting that this is the time that multi-generational and family groups visit the Jewish state. Martin added that “a big chunk of the market booking now are those who have been waiting to go back a second time, as well as those who have lived through two years of COVID and see a window opening now and feel ‘they better go,’ when they can.”
Martin pointed out a new trend regarding some Americans traveling to Israel. They are including visits to Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Elvira Serby voiced the feeling of many when she said that she and her husband, Charles, “are tired of not traveling. We feel like we missed out on two years and have to catch up. We just have to make up for lost time.”
The Serbys are joining a Hebrew University travel-study program to Spain in May where they’ll be visiting Jewish sites and learning about life that existed before the Spanish Inquisition.
“We’re looking forward to traveling again,” she emphasized.
What is clear from a number of interviews with travelers, travel industry executives and agents is an uptick in journeying abroad. For example, the Sebsos have waited two years for this third attempt to go on their Margaret Morse Tour to Israel in May.
“It’s the trip of a lifetime, especially since we’ve never been there before,” said Arlene. An architect, David is especially eager to tour to “experience its architecture and the related space.”
David and Arlene Sebso worked together in their architectural firm, Metropolitan Design Group, and like many didn’t have too much time for travel. They were ready to visit Israel in the spring of 2020 and then came COVID, which threw the travel industry for a loop. They didn’t go and postponed again in 2021 due to COVID.
Commenting on her forthcoming trip to Israel, Arlene said: “I’m prepared to do it all, see it all, and create memories for a lifetime.”
Michael Morse, who with his sister, Robin, heads Margaret Morse Tour, believes there is no better time than the present to travel to Israel. He notes that as far back as 2019, people booked for 2020, but because of COVID, postponed and postponed again in 2021 and are now going on the trip.
Michael and Robin are the third generation heading Margaret Morse – Wendy was second. The group has been handling tourism to Israel since 1980. Michael tells his clients that Israel is safe, even safer than New York City, where crime has risen.
Lonni Sterling, who spent three months in Israel in the 1970s, and visited in 1999, is looking forward to her trip this month with Israel Discovery Tours. She’s heard of so many new changes in the country.
“It’s not the same as it was,” she said, voicing anticipation of seeing new sites. Sterling is thrilled about visiting Petra and Wadi Rum, famous archaeological sites in Jordan.
Bradley Sharps, head of Israel Discovery tours, who runs about 13 tours a year to Israel, which he terms as “high-end deluxe tours,” also reported “heavy booking” in family tours to the Jewish state in the coming months. He said that now the tour group is not booking one-day trips from Eilat to Petra. Trips to Petra have to be at least two days because of border crossing limitations, he said, adding, “everything in Israel regarding tourism can change tomorrow.” He says he thinks Israel is making it “easier” to travel there now though.
The impact of increased travel to Israel began on March 1. In March alone, Israel “welcomed over 50,000 tourists from the US,” said Martin, adding, “while this is still 40% below our record-breaking 2019 numbers, the fact that the government updated requirements only on March 1, reflects the increase in bookings and the urgency of travelers to get there. It’s been very inspiring for us at the Tourism Ministry to see travel spring back as we always knew it would.”
UNDOUBTEDLY, AMERICANS are traveling to many destinations. Recently, Alan Rosen, president of Sand & C Travel in Parkland, Florida, told this writer that his firm has been busy booking Caribbean cruises this past year. He added, there appears to be an increase in cruises to Europe, although the cruise lines have cut out St. Petersburg, Russia, because of the war. But Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki, as well as Spanish and French ports, are still popular with US travelers.
Cecile L. Roth of MSW/Ovation Travel Group, of Newark, Delaware, echoes Rosen.
“Business is definitely picking up,” she said, adding, “it’s unbelievable.”
Working in the travel industry for 46 years, she claims that tourism to Italy is one of the leading European destinations for Americans.
“For over two years,” she said, “travelers have been scanning the Internet and they want what they want because they have been deprived of traveling for so long.”
Backing up that theory of being on the Internet looking for travel experiences is the Wowzitude Travel Club, which has been live streaming one-hour virtual guided group walking tours, connecting thousands of adults to licensed tour guides in cities around the world. During the pandemic, some of the excellent virtual programs in real time with a professional guide, have been viewed by this writer, who refreshed his memory of cities such as London, Paris, Venice and even Odesa before the war.
Susan Black, a high-energy travel entrepreneur and head of Wowzitude, has been in the travel business for more than three decades. Her other brand, Our Travel Circle, showing Jewish heritage tours, partners with museums, such as the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York City, libraries and alumni associations to produce live-streamed, walking tours.
Black’s tours in Israel, shown around the world, include Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Caesarea, Ashkelon, Masada and several kibbutzim. She encourages and promotes trips to Europe and South America, both exploring Ashkenazi and Sephardi heritage, referring guests to travel agents for bookings.
On a personal note, this writer’s grandson, Randy Frank, an athletic trainer, will participate in the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel, which will open July 12. The delegation is expected to field over 1,300 participants.
Much depends on the course of the pandemic, as well as the international scene. But for now, it seems tourists are waiting with bated breath to say “bon voyage.”
Ben G. Frank, travel writer and travel-lecturer, is the author of the just-published Klara’s Brother & The Woman He Loved, A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, 4th edition, and The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond. Follow him on Twitter: @bengfrank