Wanderlust in Israel – why and to where do people travel?

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis will take the opportunity to travel abroad once more, while the weather is ideal in so many parts of the world and the prices are far cheaper than the summer fares.

 TRAVELERS AT the departure hall of Ben-Gurion Airport, during Passover in April.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
TRAVELERS AT the departure hall of Ben-Gurion Airport, during Passover in April.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

One does not need to watch the news, read the paper or follow social media to see reports almost daily of the chaos at airports around the world.

Never has there been such a rush to leave the country, enjoy the food at 35,000 feet (10,000 meters), wander the streets of another city and too often come back sick. The summer has seen an enthusiastic eruption of desire to travel, like never before.

First and foremost was the desire to see families and friends who throughout the pandemic were left on different shores.

Whether your country of origin finally opened up its borders, like Australia and New Zealand, or, like the United States, allowed all of its citizens to enter sans any vaccinations or PCR tests is immaterial. Travel you could, and travel you did.

Forget what it cost – and it cost more than ever before. Forget the discomfort – and those of you who braved the skies were firsthand witnesses to how complicated it was to simply go through security, enter a plane, and receive one’s checked bag upon arrival.

 THE RUBI PLATINUM Resort in Antalya, Turkey. (credit: MICHAEL STARR) THE RUBI PLATINUM Resort in Antalya, Turkey. (credit: MICHAEL STARR)

The road warriors returned in abundance. Eschewing any and all obstacles, they took to the skies as if canned oxygen was their only currency. Reports abounded on how to bypass the lines at Ben-Gurion Airport or to gain sympathy when it took over two hours to get through security.

Businesspeople as well resumed traveling as if they had never visited a client in the past. Zoom and Teams may have their proponents, but for many in the business world, they needed to see someone face-to-face. Breaking bread or having a drink became the main focus of their plans. Where two or three employees would make the trip in the past, the numbers were increased to double that. They had to show they not only survived COVID, but thrived. A few overseas conferences were planned, but by and large it was the deep-rooted desire to be seen that was the primary motivation.

Let us simply call it rejuvenation. Even if you are not finding an escape from your problems, there was no harm in taking a break, finding relaxation and calming down a little. People love to have relaxing vacations. They love to enjoy life, even if it is for a small duration away from phones and social media. The idea of rejuvenation is different for different people. Some people like to relax in a resort or a beach with a book, others find happiness on a trek. But definitely travel serves the purpose.

Israelis take the opportunity to travel

THE AUTUMN equinox is Friday, September 23, which nearly coincides with the High Holy Days. In Israel, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simhat Torah attract hundreds of thousands of tourists, Jews and Christians. The hotels will be full, with tourists and Israelis seeking succor from the holiday pressure and looking to be spoiled inside Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis will take the opportunity to travel abroad once more, while the weather is ideal in so many parts of the world and the prices are far cheaper than the summer fares.

Let us first identify which are the largest airlines that fly in and out of Israel.

El Al remains the top carrier, with one in five passengers flying on its planes. This 20% market share is respectable, albeit just a few years ago it was closer to 30%.

The second-largest carrier is an airline that most of you would not set foot in, but your kids will, and the tourists most definitely will. Wizz Air has long surpassed the legacy carriers to claim the second-largest airline in passenger numbers flying in and out of Ben-Gurion Airport.

Wizz Air, legally incorporated as Wizz Air Hungary Ltd., is a Hungarian ultra-low-cost carrier with its head office in Budapest. The airline serves many cities across Europe, as well as some destinations in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Right behind it is Turkish Airlines, not only for its comprehensive flight network, but for its ability to attract Israelis to Turkish resorts after years of being insulted by the Turkish president. With an exchange of ambassadors about to take place between Jerusalem and Ankara, expect to see even more Israelis flocking to Turkey this fall.

Another low-cost carrier, Ryan Air, takes fourth place, with Israir and Arkia coming in fifth and sixth.

Rounding out the top 10 one can find another Turkish low-cost carrier, Pegasus, dueling for bragging rights with Easy Jet. Only in the last two spots can one find two stalwart carriers, United Airlines and Lufthansa, once the epitome of foreign carriers in Israel.

Destinations cheaper than home

ONE CAN easily extrapolate that this fall Israelis will migrate to places far cheaper than our own Dead Sea or Eilat by heading first to those countries close to us. Cyprus and Greece, be it Ayia Napa or Thessaloniki, will see thousands of Israelis filling their hotels, shopping in their Old Cities, and lounging on their beaches. So many Israelis have already booked their holiday, but every day, hundreds more finalize their plans. Memories of long lines at airports or not collecting one’s checked bags fade quickly when one compares a package holiday in either of those two countries to vacationing in Israel.

I bleed blue and white, but Israeli hotels seem to have raised room rates to make up for nearly two years with a paucity of paying guests. Labor scarcities are common throughout the tourism industry, whether your hotel is in Rishon or Rome. That tourists are paying these hotel rates is a testament that price elasticity has not yet peaked when it comes to setting hotel prices.

Turkish delight is how so many clients describe the Turkish resorts filled with wonderful service and fantastic properties. Turkey combines historical heritage with a vibrant modern culture and pristine beaches. Last year Turkey was one of the most popular destinations for Israeli-Arabs, but this summer all Israelis took advantage of the Turkish coastline.

Travelling to the United Arab Emirates has been at the top of so many Israelis’ wish lists that while thousands have flown, the fall season will see thousands more traipsing to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Las Vegas on steroids is the best way to describe the country, with a service profile that ranks one of the world’s best. People marvel at how warmly and sincerely they are treated, and while no one has ever accused the country of being inexpensive, one feels that one is getting the most for what one paid. Leisure groups and incentive programs have locked in the UAE as a must-see country in October.

Israel has had warm relations with Morocco for decades, but once the relationship received the blessings of the Abraham Accords, it is as if the Phoenicians are trying to colonize Morocco all over again. It makes no matter if your family came from Casablanca or Chicago; everyone wants to dip their toes in this Berber and Arab polyglot. The Jewish presence goes back centuries and shows a way of life long since forgotten. Israelis simply cannot get enough of it.

Europe, too, be it London or Paris or Rome, will be filled with Israelis this holiday season. A weak euro may attract some serious shoppers, but it’s the classical delights of these three European countries that are wooing Israelis.

The reasons to travel to Europe are endless. If its history, culture and natural beauty are not enough to draw you, the cuisine, the locals and the myriad of sights and wonders to see would be more than enough to suffice many a visitor.

The lure of Iceland this summer among Israeli travelers will be curtailed, come fall. Just too cold.

Even with the multitude of cheaper destinations, the United States will be the leading destination for Israelis this fall. Three US airlines – American, Delta and United – have more than 40 weekly flights attracting the flying public, with nonstop flights to Newark, JFK, Boston, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco. Their networks inside the United States makes it incredibly easy to fly almost anywhere in the 50 states. Offering economy, economy plus, premium and business class seats, they are able to sell seats within almost anyone’s economic means.

American Airlines was proud to announce it put down a nonrefundable deposit with Boom Supersonic for 20 planes, the first supersonic plane since the famed Concorde stopped flying 19 years ago. United Airlines put down a deposit last year for 15 supersonic jets. Sadly, these supersonic planes won’t be flying this fall, nor next fall. I have expressed my skepticism in the past about commercial supersonic planes but applaud American’s vision.

More telling is the press release from American Airlines touting fares under $800 for September flights to the Big Apple. Delta, United and El Al quickly matched it. Finding space is another issue, but the low fare is indicative that while the days get shorter, and the nights get colder, the sky-high fares of this summer will soon be in the rearview mirror.

El Al’s most profitable market is the United States; with its relationship with Jet Blue and American Airlines, El Al has pivoted dramatically to keep its North American market share quite high.

It may have given up on Canada, announcing that, come October, it will cease all flights to Toronto.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and Air Canada was happy to step right up and take over the entire Canadian market. Air Canada’s network with the United States and its seamless partnership with United Airlines make it a force to be reckoned with, and will be utilized greatly by the Israeli public.

Of course, the upper echelon of Israeli society will fly to more exotic locations, be it Seychelles or the Maldives. Many will take a trek to Thailand or arrange a safari in South Africa. Those with more time on their hands will go Down Under, and hundreds more will visit the Kiwis.

Travel creates our greatest stories

IN TODAY’S tech-obsessed world, where social media is used as the perfect platform to showcase the world’s beauty, one needs to realize that travel is so much more than getting that perfect Instagram shot. Travel should be purposeful. It should excite and inspire you, rejuvenate and revitalize you, educate and challenge you, and most of all it should humble you.

Travel gives us our greatest stories, our most cherished memories, and countless irreplaceable impressions that we choose to share with others. It teaches us about ourselves and each other, it broadens or horizons and, if successful, it forces us to refocus on what really matters.

Do I believe that one must travel to leave the world a better place? Not really. Do I revel in being exposed to different cultures and ancient traditions? Yes.

Travel should teach us to embrace and celebrate both our similarities and our differences. To yearn for the time that travel was a way to escape reality is to relinquish what travel is. We no longer have absolute freedom to live in the moment and be anyone or go anywhere or do anything. Travel will enable spontaneity and having new experiences. Our lives are technology driven, and it is not often that we actually take the time to de-stress and truly switch off. Successful travel allows us to escape life’s daily demands, dramas and deadlines.

My desire always is travel for humility. These days, more than ever, travel is a crash course in humility. As we cross borders and oceans, we gain true perspective. We learn to recognize and be grateful for all of the things we take for granted in our own lives, and we also gain an appreciation and respect for how others live. Travel teaches us to be tolerant, flexible and open-minded, and most of all it makes us humble.

Never forget: Jobs fill your pockets, adventures fill your soul.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem, and a director at Diesenhaus. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]