A new year and a new cycle of world travel

Passengers cry wolf, large numbers of compensation are doled out to them and El Al’s sterling safety reputation is severely tarnished.

Israeli passport [Illustrative] (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Israeli passport [Illustrative]
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
This time of year, we are celebrating Simhat Torah, the quintessential Jewish holiday that celebrates and marks the conclusion of Torah readings and commences the beginning of a new cycle. Synagogue services are uniquely characterized by the calling up of each male member in an Orthodox congregation and all members in the majority of non-Orthodox congregations for an aliya.
Aliya has two basic meanings. The first one, just alluded to, is the honor of being called upon to read from the Torah. The second meaning is immigration to Israel.
While in the early stages of the country, for new immigrants, the primary mode of transportation was by ship, today’s new immigrants make their way to Israel on the silver wings of an airplane. In fact with a population of over 8 million, Israel is proud of the fact that over one third of their citizens made aliya. By far, the largest number of immigrants have emanated from the former Soviet Union while the United States has seen over 100,000 immigrants land at the former Lod Airport and Ben Gurion Airport.
New and old immigrants play a major role in many facets of their newborn country, contributing in a myriad of ways. Whether you think of them as ingredients in a melting pot or a salad bowl, there’s no ignoring their contributions. Most countries benefit greatly from their immigrants and the airline industry is no exception.
Whether it’s returning to their birth countries to visit relatives still residing there, or keeping up their business practice or simply trying to sell an abode, they make up a large proportion of airline passengers. So while we celebrate Simhat Torah and start reading the Torah once more, keep in mind that what goes around comes around and while our fall travel trends may call themselves a new cycle, much has been seen already in the past.
You’ll find Israelis in tourist sites throughout the world. When Israel and China initiated diplomatic relations in 1992, I was invited as part of the first delegation to visit. One day, we were taken far from the bustling metropolis of Beijing to explore a part of the Great Wall not usually seen by tourists. Climbing up the steps while in awe of the length and breadth of this wonder, we heard two Israelis speaking in Hebrew and munching sunflower seeds. The VIPs on our tours who had haughtily assumed they were the first Israelis to visit the country were shocked to see how two backpackers had found a way into the country through its then porous borders.
This fall you’ll find Israelis, young and old, exploring these hot spots of 2016-17: Peru: Combining both pastoral Peruvian countryside and Machu Picchu, Huaraz has quickly become the Israelis gateway to South America. Situated at over 3,000 meters, it’s incredibly affordable with the added benefit of cheap access to several world class hikes, like the Santa Cruz hike, a popular three day trek.
Vietnam: Once the stronghold of Ho Chi Minh’s Communist Party, Hanoi has blossomed into a tourist-friendly city, embracing its traditional past while slowly accepting Western influence. Hoan Kiem Lake is a perfect blend of old and new, buzzing with teenage Vietnamese engaging tourists in conversations to practice their English.
Hanoi serves as a thoroughfare to one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Ha Long Bay, the over-touristy Sapa Village, and still hidden gem, Mai Chau.
Thailand: The recent death of their monarch has resulted in one year of official mourning but should have little effect on visitors. Most tourists flock to Bangkok for shopping, and the islands for their flawless beaches, yet the jewel of Thailand resides in the north. Moving at a slower pace, Chiang Mai is home to the infamous Lantern Festival, held in late November, along with enviable jungles, zip-lining, and elephants. Arguably the best value for your money, hour-long massages that cost five dollars and eating your way through the night market will only empty the loose change from your pocket.
India: My business clients head to Mumbai and Delhi. Yet far away from the busy metropolises of India’s mainland, are the often forgotten Andaman Islands. Closer to Thailand than they are to India, Havelock Island offers a truly isolated experience. With essentially no Internet, tourists are “forced” to indulge in white sand beaches, breathtaking diving and some of the best vegetarian curries and masalas in the world.
Georgia: No, I don’t mean the US’ Peach State but the country.
A recent revival, Batumi maintains its century’s old charm–when it was flush with cash as an oil port, with renovated buildings and streets. Situated on the Black Sea, Batumi offers world class beer, wine and plenty of nightlife. About 60 kilometers away is the Ureki beach with its unique “black magnetic sand,” said to have therapeutic qualities.
Bulgaria: For Israelis looking for a mix of beach and museums, Varna has emerged as a crowd favorite. With the famous Roman baths and stone forests, tourists enjoy plenty of history, while taking in the stunning golden sand beaches. Come ready to party, as Varna’s party scene rivals its more famous European neighbors.
Australia: Despite its daunting price tag, Australia has become an ever popular destination for Israelis. There’s no doubt Australia is one of the most remote, fascinating and highly developed countries in the world. Endowed with a myriad of natural wonders, plenty of wildlife, dazzling beaches, cosmopolitan metropolises and large expanses of outback, it’s easy to see why this captivating country is such a complete travel destination. It not only matches every taste, budget, and interest, but it also delivers some unique experiences almost impossible to find somewhere else.
Japan: While tourism from Japan to Israel is still dominated by Christian visitors, the weakness of the yen has seen a steep increase in Israelis making the excursion. Japan has a very distinct and unique culture. Japan provides a multitude of traditional culture like festivals, temples and religious events, to the modern culture like anime and entertainment. You will find that Japan provides a very interesting blend of old and new. The technologies used are very advanced and futuristic.
TO BE equitable to those readers who view the previous list as a bucket list, there was a recent survey done, which reaffirms that the countries Israelis most enjoyed vacationing are the US and Canada. And while Thailand and Italy, along with Spain & England were in the top 10, New York was chosen as the favorite city. So while Singapore Air contemplates flying to Tel Aviv and Hainan Air has broken El Al’s monopoly on nonstop flights to Beijing, the East Coast of the United States is where the majority of Israelis head to and is the most competitive route in all of Israel. This fall should see no change in the ranking. Finally the survey did provide a definitive answer to the one country that more Israelis wish they could visit: Dubai El Al has up to four daily nonstop flights to Newark and JFK. The flights are usually operated by Israeli crews, though with the continual battle with the pilot’s union, El Al is often left with no alternative but to subcontract their flights out to Spanish and Portuguese carriers.
Passengers cry wolf, large numbers of compensation are doled out to them and El Al’s sterling safety reputation is severely tarnished. Short of closing down the airline and engaging in mass firing, this battle of the mighty has brought El Al to her knees with no near term solution in sight.
United Airlines has been the major beneficiary over the years of El Al’s challenges. Flying twice daily to Newark and now with daily flight to San Francisco, they’ve successfully managed to attract large number of El Al’s business clientele unwilling to risk the wrath of El Al’s pilots.
It is surprising that Delta Airlines has elected not to take advantage of the recent opportunity to exploit the unease by adding more flights. Their solo daily flight to JFK is the only plane in this race and while Delta tepidly tried to increase its market share by adding a second flight this summer, with the advent of the holidays, Atlanta officials, where Delta is headquartered, elected to cancel it, leaving United Airlines to keep its increased market share.
The flight to the Big Apple though, can traverse many a country and the sage consumer who doesn’t require a nonstop flight will find airfares this fall at record lows.
One should make their choice based on schedules, security, and stopover times and of course the final price.
Must you have two free checked in bags as you’ll be supporting the US economy through your shopping? Then consider Turkish Air, Aeroflot and Royal Jordanian Airlines, as all three permit even the least frequent flier that privilege. Want to combine your visit with a show in London, a visit to Disneyland Paris or a Spanish siesta? Then consider any of the European carriers whose prices will beat or match those airlines flying nonstop.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at mark.feldman@ ziontours.co.il