Spring is in the air, but don’t expect tourism to pick up

The Travel Adviser: While the number of tourists coming to the Holy Land may prove to be disappointing, the number of travelers flying from Israel will bring a smile to the industry.

It’s all over the media – the travel forecast is showing that 2010 is not starting out to be a strong year for incoming tourism. There was much irony when it was announced that the number of incoming tourists who visited in 2009, 2.7 million, was the same number that visited in 2000. The last decade has been peppered with several wars, a huge recession and a swine flu epidemic, so the fact that Israel didn’t increase its numbers is not necessarily a clarion call.
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov has done an excellent job at appealing to the tourism industry, demanding better prices, more activities and has increased the tourism budget to promote the country throughout the world. My position, well documented, is that there is little that can be done as external factors influence the potential tourist far more than what Israel has to offer. Still it’s refreshing to have a minister of tourism whose vocal outbursts cause discomfort among hotel executives, and his constructive criticism is being discussed at the highest levels.
While the number of tourists coming to the Holy Land may prove to be disappointing, the number of travelers flying from Israel will bring a smile to the industry. With Passover night starting March 29 and Easter coming up a few days later, passengers are already scrambling to find seats.
A letter I received from Aviva: “I’ve been trying to get a quote from different Internet sites and travel agencies for me and my family to travel to the US for Pessah. I don’t know whom to turn to as the prices I’m getting for El Al, Continental, Delta and US Air to Philly are making my head spin. We want to depart Sunday, March 28 to the New York area and return to Israel on April 8. Am I being taken advantage of as we are going in what I think is the opposite direction?”
Not quite sure where this myth originated, but let’s bust it right now. When schools close and the government shuts down, when companies force workers to take vacation – Israelis travel. When unions ban group travel to Turkey and when elderly parents ask their family to visit them for the holidays – Israelis travel. When a hotel in Jerusalem is asking $400 a night for the week of Pessah and hotels in Eilat are not much less – Israelis travel.
While our tourism minister may implore the hotels to keep their rates down, come Passover and Easter anything goes and the sky’s the limit.
This Passover will be no different – Israelis will converge on the airport and the borders like bees on flowers. With spring in the air, they’ll clog up the duty free stores and look for spring sales in London, Paris and New York. Credit cards drawn, they will take it upon themselves to improve dramatically the economies of each county they visit.
So what should Aviva expect? Her family consists of two adults and two children both under the age of 12. There are three nonstop airlines that ply this route: El Al and Continental fly to Newark, while El Al and Delta land in JFK.
On her desired dates, Continental is without exception the least expensive nonstop airline. A family of four can fly in comfort with private video monitors for $5,630. Each adult pays $1,541 while each child would pay $1,274. Delta will set her family back $6,944 on planes that don’t yet have personal monitors.
And what about our so-called national carrier, with arguably the best security money can buy. El Al wants $8,200 for these dates. Yes, over $2,500 more than Continental. Everyone in the travel industry has clients who will only fly El Al. Notwithstanding a feeling of being among one’s own people, invariably the number one reason clients elect to fly El Al is for its security. Hard to put a price tag on that feeling of safety, but $2,500 for a family of four is what it will cost this holiday season.
Flying nonstop may be the easiest way to travel, certainly with small kids, but many people simply cannot afford the fare and still wish to visit the Big Apple. For those people, there exist our European carriers.
Keeping in mind that we want to get there for Passover night but don’t want to spend a night in Europe on the way, Lot Air takes the prize. Flying via Warsaw with long layovers and plenty of time to check the duty free stores at Fredric Chopin Airport, Lot Air is asking $3,555 for this foursome.
American Airlines with two stops along the way, Paris and Frankfurt, comes in at $4,077.
The much maligned Turks have their national airline, Turkish Air, which is requesting $4,272, with Alitalia nipping at their heels requesting $4,300. More interesting is a combination of Delta Airlines nonstop and Alitalia via Milan on the return. In other words, show up feeling refreshed for Seder night and come back exhausted – all for the semi-reasonable price of $4,800.
Thus there is no easy solution to Aviva’s enquiry – the fares will behigh this spring holiday season. One way to dramatically lower the costis to fly via Europe. The other way is to leave earlier and come backmuch later in the month. What your kids may lose in their educationwill more than be made up in your savings. And if all these figures aremaking your head spin, then fly the whole family in business class.Austrian Air via Vienna wants $9,473 to get you there in style. Nowthat’s called putting on the Ritz.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments, e-mail him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il.