The Travel Adviser: After the fall

It appears that the Gaza truce will stick permitting the airlines and the entire tourist industry to salvage what they can of 2014.

Delta airline plane (photo credit: REUTERS)
Delta airline plane
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Imagine a press release stating that the carrier will slash its staff by 30 percent sending over 6,000 employees to the unemployment line, as it takes steps to stem long-running losses worsened by disasters this year. Imagine the managing director announcing that the carrier will be delisted from the stock exchange by the end of 2014.
Then imagine him stating “that recent tragic events and ongoing difficulties have created a perfect storm that is allowing this restructuring to take place.”
Airline aficionados would be hard pressed to name that airline, with the multitude selecting El Al Israel Airlines as the carrier in question. But in fact, the carrier making such a radical change is Malaysia Airlines who has been battered by two aircraft disasters this year.
The odds that El Al would make such a comprehensive alteration in its operating procedures is as likely as a peace treaty being signed between Israel and Hamas in the next 30 days. A truce does exist though, and it appears that the Gaza truce will stick permitting the airlines and the entire tourist industry to salvage what they can of 2014.
Rosh Hashana commences a mere 24 hours after the autumnal equinox, ushering in a new year, a change of seasons and a fervent hope that better times await us.
Heavily promoting tourism from abroad, the airlines have slashed their fares by 20% to entice tourists to put the Operation Protective Edge in their rearview mirror and seek greener pastures in the Holy Land.
Nonstop fares from the New York City and Newark are being marketed by El Al, Delta and United Airlines at $999 with every tax known to mankind included. Limited in space, with huge penalties if one has to change or cancel, marketing campaigns have been launched and are slowly gaining traction.
Israeli residents as well, while not being bombarded with heavy advertising are finding out those same $999 fares exist from Ben-Gurion Airport to either JFK or Newark airport. With no chance to take advantage of Succot, as flights were long ago booked, imaginative consumers and their travel consultants are juggling dates to find the lowest fares.
In the United Kingdom, where being pro-Israel is far more risky and exceedingly kept very close to the chest, fares have not dropped as rapidly as the United States. It will still cost north of $600 for a London based resident to visit Israel on either British Airways or Air Canada. EasyJet, that hugely successful charter airline who took great advantage of the Open Sky policy between Israel and the European Union can be had for under $500.
Let’s take a moment to discuss the two largest travel trends in Europe this fall season.
Germany, for a variety of reasons is attracting a record number of tourists. Over the last year, Germany has seen a 20% growth in visitors. With this year being the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall being torn down, it would be no surprise if tourism reaches an all-time high. El Al chose to forgo their bread and butter business travelers to Berlin, introducing one of its new Boeing 737 aircraft on that route and incorporating it as part of its UP destinations. Passengers have been attracted by its low cost pricing whose basic stripped down fare doesn’t include seating, checked bags or meals.
Round trip fares to Berlin start at $249. Passengers seeking space to Berlin have the option to compare prices with three different airlines, Air Berlin, Lufthansa and that king of the low cost carriers, who has recently returned to the Israeli air space – easyJet. Be it the Berlin Wall Museum or Potsdamer Platz, consumers are flocking to Berlin in ever increasing numbers. Unable to forget its past, and memorializing it throughout the city, it’s become a hip place attracting visitors of every age. As fall turns toward winter, expect even more visitors embracing the warmth of their famous Christmas markets.
The second city in Europe seeing a huge uptick this fall will be London. Truth be told, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, it seems that London, and the rest of England, is always a popular spot for travelers. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much to do or see in the area or maybe it’s because of the chance to see some theater at ticket prices 50% less than one would pay on Broadway. No matter what the reason is, a trip to England won’t disappoint even the most seasoned of travelers.
From Tel Aviv, El Al and British Airways have carved up the market among legacy carriers, both offering a wide variety of seating options, ranging from economy class, economy comfort which is that strange hybrid class below business class with more leg room and on BA a completely separate cabin. Business clients and wealthier patrons have the option to spend more and be spoiled in business class on either airline or experience on El Al the wonders of flying first class.
EasyJet airlines with it’s one size fits all policy, has bitten off 30% from those two airlines by flying sardine- like planes to three of England’s airports: Heathrow and Luton in London and Manchester. Passengers long ago have been educated to pack lightly and bring their own food to avoid charges, while saving every pound and shekel they can for their planned visit.
One has to cross the Atlantic to seek out the next trend of the fall season – New York.
New York, New York – their sports teams may be having a terrible fall, and the upcoming football season offers little hope, but with a weak dollar and a strong recovery, both business and leisure travelers will be visiting the Big Apple in record numbers this autumn.
With no low cost carriers buzzing around, and no Open Sky Agreement with the United States, El Al, flying nonstop to both JFK and Newark, shares the skies with United’s two daily nonstop flights to Newark and Delta’s solo daily flight to JFK.
Clients will bicker over whose service is better with United Airlines and Delta trumpeting their economy cabin with multimedia entertainment units. Eager to get even more money, both have injected millions of dollars in their economy comfort produce, while undeniably proud of their lie-flat seats in business class.
United Airlines, while ruminating about adding a third flight from Tel Aviv on their newest addition to their fleet – the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, are content with their Boeing 777 aircraft flying each day and each night from Tel Aviv to Newark airport. Having a train station right inside Newark’s terminal has convinced passengers that flying to Newark and getting into Manhattan may be easier than flying into JFK.
Delta Airlines is soon going to retire its antiquated and too often grounded 747 plane, for a much newer Boeing 777. Cutting their capacity on the route to Tel Aviv by 23% may signal their desire to focus more on their Chinese and Far Eastern markets that will only make their competitors smile. For example, business class seats, presently at 48 seats on each plane, will be lopped down to only 37. The majority of business clients are to book much closer to their departure dates. In principle, business clients who have enjoyed Delta’s service may balk when the price quoted is much higher than either United or El Al when booking a last minute business class seat.
El Al, unarguably with the best security in the world, is slowly realizing that until it updates more of its aircraft, getting the business clientele back will be challenging.
Only recently has it taken the first step and installed lie-flat beds on their planes to JFK. Struggling financially and with labor problems that make a Gordian knot appear childish, management is hoping that inexpensive fares and the public’s memory of the recent war, will allow it to increase its plane’s load frequency.
Realizing, like the State of Israel, that it has few partners in the aviation industry, it needs to focus on the few cities it flies to directly in North America that beyond New York and Newark include Toronto and Los Angeles. It’s when it tries to convince consumers to use its partners inside North America that it falters badly compared to the hundreds of flights offered by both Delta and United.
After the Fall is a play by Arthur Miller. Debuting 40 years ago in New York City, the plot takes place inside the mind of a New York Jewish intellectual who decides to re-examine his life. Now would be an excellent time for all so leaned individuals to re-examine their lives and their priorities.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email [email protected]