The 'mourning' after

Letting tourists change or cancel their flights, calming panicked passengers, the Israeli airline proved once more why it’s important we keep El Al afloat.

El al plane at rest 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
El al plane at rest 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It will happen sooner or later: the war will end; prisoners will be exchanged; each side will claim victory. Our leaders will claim that quiet has been restored to the area. Hamas will also claim victory, proudly listing how many IDF soldiers it killed.
The loss of our soldiers will burn deep in their families’ and our hearts; children of the fallen and childhood friends will mourn them deeply. The talking heads in the media will delve deeply into the process, dissecting all the possible outcomes, ad nauseam. Experts will opine on what it truly means; trees will be cut down to print newspapers outlining all the scenarios. For most of us it will matter little.
For most of us, the morning after will bring an uneasy peace, not tranquility but at least a tepid embrace of the newly discovered sound of silence.
The Tunnel War of 2014 destroyed many dear families, decimated hundreds of businesses, devastated thousands of individuals whose livelihoods depend on tourists. I’m not wise enough to anticipate the longterm effect of the war, or how long it will give us peace.
Or what exactly defines peace.
It’s the morning after that I wish to bring to your attention.
The airlines will resume their normal flight schedule; no more picking up errant flight crews in Larnaca or Athens. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau will cease talking about occupying Gaza and turn his attention to occupying hotel rooms. The clerks at the Tourism Ministry have in their drawers detailed plans on how to woo tourists back to Israel. (Or they had better have such plans.) The foreign airlines who long ago were salivating at the huge numbers of tourists scheduled to fill their planes this summer will need to ramp up their marketing strategy.
Bright minds at El Al will aggressively promote their strongest asset – security. No threat of El Al stopping flights; no worries among their staff about being in Israel. They bleed blue and white, and throughout the war acted with the highest level of professionalism.
Letting tourists change or cancel their flights, calming panicked passengers, the Israeli airline proved once more why it’s important we keep El Al afloat, no matter how many inept decisions its management has made in the past.
Except for a scattering of foreign airlines (British Airways, Iberia and Aeroflot) all the other airlines suspended air service to and from Tel Aviv. No matter how or why the Federal Aviation Administration in the US announced their ban on flying to Israel, the fact that United Airlines, Delta, US Air and Air Canada ceased flights within a few hours will have long-term ramifications. Our office, along with travel agencies throughout Israel had to prod and push the airlines to rebook passengers on El Al. Many of the airlines were very helpful; other simply closed down their switchboards, refused to reply to emails and left their clients stranded. They, too, will not be forgotten. Coupled with the near dearth of low-cost carriers, such as Easy Jet and almost every other European airline, the field is wide open for El Al, Israir and Arkia to greatly benefit.
Business people who had to delay their trips due to the war will try to reschedule them quickly. August in Europe is pretty much a lost time as most European citizens are on vacation. Except those planning pogroms on the streets of Paris or Istanbul, that is.
Leisure travelers from Israel will need to move quickly to take advantage of the lower prices on flights and packages which will flood the media soon after a ceasefire is announced. Those that were not personally affected by loss of life or property will quickly desire to get away from it all. Living in the pressure cooker is not healthy for anyone; the ability to pop over to a Greek island or spend a few days in the sun-bathed hedonism of Eilat will have large numbers jumping at the opportunity.
We revert to normalcy very quickly in Israel. While event promoters cannot replace the concerts canceled this summer, they can only hope that 2015 will be a better year.
Those consumers based in Israel will give the first lift to the tourism industry. The Israeli hotels that are wise enough to come out with meaningful specials will find their rooms filling up quickly. The Israeli wholesalers pushing packages to Greek islands and Eastern European cities will be advertising wildly. The Open Sky policy, which has let so many low-cost carriers fly between Europe and Israel, will have those airlines trebling their efforts to salvage this summer. So the tourism industry must focus first on those fortunate enough to call Israel home.
The vast majority of readers long ago made their summer plans, and while they may have tweaked them because of the war, they are set. Those of you who didn’t or couldn’t plan their break or were hoping that family or friends would be coming to Israel are now primed to benefit.
The following tips are just as instrumental for readers planning a trip to Israel next month or later this year: Shop around. Don’t assume that all travel agencies, whether online or not, offer the same fares. They don’t.
Especially on international fares, one travel agency could be offering a fare several hundred dollars lower or higher than another. It’s quite common for some agencies and sites to simply block out specific airlines or cities that another office would offer. Any site or agency should not be afraid that you’ll check their quote.
Search airline sites individually. Increasingly, some airlines have their own sales, reserving their very best fares for their own sites or a specific market. With the exception of Southwest, which only sells tickets on its own site, many other airlines do this, running the gamut from small US domestic airline to large international carriers. We’ve noticed it on both KLM and Delta in the past. Other airlines we’ve discovered have been Qantas and Singapore. The North American airlines, United, Delta and American, as well as El Al, have also had special fares when purchased from the country they are originating from.
Gain by being flexible. The special rates that will be promoted now will be limited by dates and by space.
Locking yourself into a specific date may end up costing you hundreds of dollars. The ability to both search and be offered flights in a narrow date range will usually ensure you get the least expensive fare. Some sites, like Travelocity, offer such an option, while others like Sidestep do not. All travel agencies utilize such flexible search engines, thus optimizing the results.
Check fares often. It pays to track your search over a few days; airlines are notorious on opening up previously closed flights when they realize their vaunted computer models had a glitch. If you see the fares trending upward then by all means lock it in, otherwise, patience can be rewarded.
So that’s what you can do, What should we expect from the airlines and government bodies? The war has not caused any damage to Israel’s prime tourism spots. Both Eilat and the Dead Sea escaped unscathed, while Jerusalem received only a smattering of rockets. Tel Aviv too, while emotionally scarred was fortunate in that neither tourism sites nor hotels were attacked.
Thus we should see a large promotion campaign targeting potential tourists to Israel this fall, when the weather is great and the festivals abundant. Working with the Israel Hotel Association, an aggressive campaign with steep price cuts is required to get the foreign tourists back in the country.
The local municipalities must also get their acts together. Quickly rebranding their summer festivals will go a long way to lifting the nation’s morale.
War is hell, make no mistake about that. We, though, are survivors, and trust me, survive in style we shall.
The author is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]