Can Israel benefit from post-COVID-19 revenge tourism? - opinion

In the current circumstances, how do we (the Ministry of Tourism and private companies) sell Israel to potential tourists?

 ENJOYING THE beaches in Israel this past weekend. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
ENJOYING THE beaches in Israel this past weekend.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

If you haven’t yet heard the phrase revenge travel (a.k.a. revenge tourism), you will likely hear more about it in the coming months. After being forced not to travel or do much of anything for a couple of years, people want revenge against COVID, travel restrictions, fear, boredom and loneliness. They desperately want to make up for lost time, and see relatives and friends in other places. 

Forbes explains that in our present post-pandemic thinking, “Many people are tired of being at home, are fully vaccinated, and have been saving up cash and travel miles for their first post-pandemic trip.” India Today explains that revenge travel stems from “lockdown fatigue or exhaustion that escalates on account of monotony.”

The list of people discussing revenge travel is long, as are the lines in airports.

Travel is back and back big. The question for Israel is: Can we jump on the wave of revenge travel? In the current circumstances, how do we (the Ministry of Tourism and private companies) sell Israel to potential tourists?

Of course, we need to share all of the amazing things Israel has to offer (from beaches to the Western Wall). And of course, we need to target potential groups with approaches that are most likely to speak to them (Christian pilgrims respond to different ads than Gulf State visitors). Still, is there anything to emphasize?

 JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Take the Ministry of Tourism’s successful 2018 campaign targeting potential European tourists. An impressive video (Tel Aviv & Jerusalem: 2 Sunny Cities – 1 Break!) was created featuring the 1960s hit song “Sunny” and touting both cities as fun sunny vacation spots. While a few images included a nod to history, the focus of the campaign was overwhelmingly about fun in the sun. Over 60 million Europeans saw the ad, which clearly targeted a certain demographic (young, successful). It was a marketing decision to present Israel that way, and seemingly a good one.

During the pandemic, different issues became more important to emphasize. When things started to open up in 2021, then-Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen announced, “Israel today is a world leader in safety and health, and we will make sure every potential tourist knows this... ” With Israel’s good reputation in handling the pandemic, this made sense.

How should Israel position itself now?

From my discussions with professionals in the travel industry, it seems like three main points should be considered.

FIRSTLY, PEOPLE are stressed out, they want a break and they want to have fun. Konrad Waliszewski, CEO of the travel app Tripscout, said, “We’re initially seeing the biggest excitement for post-pandemic revenge travel to the sun and sand destinations... Everyone has had a hard year, so while they’re craving new cultures and adventures, they want to give themselves a much-needed break first.”

However, this is not the whole story. Rabbi Ari Gruen, Israel Trips director of Olami emphasized, “It isn’t just about having fun, a vacation or taking revenge against COVID. Students and young professionals are signing up for experiential trips. Of course, there is lots of fun, but it is about Israel, the Jewish People and Judaism, as well. And we can’t roll out trips fast enough.”

Similarly, A representative of Mayanot Israel, which organizes Chabad-affiliated trips to Israel, wrote to me that they are seeing “a boost across all departments... After being locked down, people really appreciate the freedom but also want content.” Avi Schwartz, regional manager for GoInspire, a large tour company specializing in Israel missions, said, “it is not just about sitting on a beach. People are also asking for all the history, spirituality, teaching and experiences that Israel offers.”

There may be something deeper motivating this type of revenge travel, as well. As Waliszewski put it, “We are no longer going to take for granted that there will always be a flight tomorrow and an open border waiting to greet us. We will make up for the lost time and experiences with a vengeance.” Visiting the Holy Land is on the bucket-list of countless people around the world, and so Israel is in a prime position to benefit from revenge tourism.

Finally, people have money to spend. Indeed, many of them want to spend money on travel now. Low-income families had it hard during the pandemic, and are being hurt by inflation. In truth, though, they were unlikely to visit Israel in any case because of the costs involved. The pandemic has had the opposite effect on many people.

Aneta Markowska, Chief Economist at Jefferies (the seventh largest investment bank in the world), explained that most Americans are actually flush with cash right now, “It is not just the wealthy – it’s 80% of the population.” Furthermore, based on statistics from the Federal Reserve, Bloomberg reported on March 30 that American consumers had saved approximately $4.2 trillion (NIS 14.5 trillion) in extra-cash savings from the pandemic. Indeed, CNN describes travel tourism as a splurge, saying “Two-ish years of staying home means that some people have saved up money and can now splurge on a fancier hotel, a first-class airplane ticket or a spendy once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Indeed, veteran guide Moshe Hamburg of Your Israel Tours explains, “I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re getting multiple calls a day. Their bar and bat mitzvah trips were postponed and their kids are growing – all types of people: secular, religious and everything in between. People have saved up money to have fun and experience Israel!”