Why sell Israel? Just “look at the numbers,” said Eyal Carlin, director of the Southern Region for the Israel Ministry of Tourism, last Wednesday at the Israel Day 2016 event in Fort Lauderdale. “2015 was the best year ever of travel from the U.S. to Israel and the trend is continuing on into 2016.” Before sitting down with Carlin and Uri Steinberg, the Israel tourism commissioner for North America, to discuss the benefits for agents selling this “untapped destination,” I spoke with a number of Israeli hotel groups and tour operators to find out the latest news on unique stays and tours available for your clients—but first, they need to get there.
News From the Air
For the Israel Ministry of Tourism, a part of the focus was on dispelling the myth that Israel is too dangerous to travel to. On the contrary, Carlin says, despite the negative press the country sometimes receives, “it’s a destination that has a high rate of repeat visitors [about 35 percent according to Carlin],” and because of this great potential, “airlines are investing money into starting direct routes into Israel.”
Take United Airlines, for example. The airline recently began operating two, new 3x weekly services from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) in Tel Aviv, departing at 8 p.m. and arriving the following day at 8:10 p.m. The return flight departs Tel Aviv at 12:55 a.m. and returns at 6 a.m. the following day. United’s existing service to Tel Aviv fly out of Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) twice daily. Meanwhile, El Al Israel Airlines flies nonstop to Israel from Boston, Los Angeles, Newark, and New York, in addition to offering connecting flights, in partnership with JetBlue, from more than 40 gateways around the country.
News From the Ground
Take note agents, because in addition to showing you “the value of what Israel has to offer [you],” Carlin wants you to know that “people tend to want to work with the travel trade when they go to Israel,” which is good news for you. As far as tour types, Steinberg says, “What we do see is an ongoing trend of moving from group to FIT,” although they “do believe that the faith-based portion of the entire pie is the largest one.” Because, as Steinberg goes on to say, “all research shows that religious travel is a growing segment worldwide.”
- Homeric Tours offers a variety of pre-planned vacation packages in Israel, as well as the option to customize a tour, including the 8-day Heritage of the Holy Land; the 9-day Israel and The Holy Land itinerary; and the 8-day Land of the Bible. According to Homeric Tours’ website, “travelers have been coming to the land of Israel to be inspired,” and the sites featured on these tours—the Dead Sea, Jerusalem’s Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount—are sure to do just that. homerictours.com
- Tour operators are “offering unique things, but they can cater to any request,” says Carlin. “So if somebody wants to have a jeep tour of the Judean desert and then finish with a breakfast on a hot air balloon…it’s possible.”
- Kedma Travel offers boutique tours that are 100 percent tailored to your clients’ wishes, needs and budget. You won’t find any pre-packaged tours on its website kedmatravel.com, because Kedma Travel only creates customized itineraries from scratch, and as result offers a unique trip, every trip.
- Culinary travel to Israel, like many destinations, is trending, and Maranatha Tours, a Christian, U.S.-based tour company, is taking advantage of having a chef for a general director by offering culinary tours in addition to its faith-based tours. “Anywhere the Bible goes, we go,” says chef Greg. In addition to seeing Israel’s historic sites and dining at Greg’s favorite spots, Maranatha Tours’ culinary itineraries feature special activities, such as taking a cooking class at Bethlehem University and going on a camel trek to an Abrahamic tent for a Biblical dinner experience. maranathatours.com
New Stays and Timeless Accommodations
“The niche that stands out more than others is the LGBT market,” says Steinberg. “What happened in the last 15 years is that Tel Aviv has become one of the meccas for gay travel.”
- Whether your clients stay in Tel Aviv for its progressiveness or its lively atmosphere, there are plenty of hotels for every taste. Dan Tel Aviv, for instance, is situated on the shoreline of the Mediterranean and features 280 luxuriously appointed guestrooms and suites, indoor and outdoor sea water pools and fine dining venues. A short stroll along the promenade to the north and guests will find themselves at the Tel Aviv Port—a bustling entertainment hub with dozens of restaurants, boutiques and art galleries. danhotels.com
- In spring 2017, the Isrotel Hotel Chain will debut the newest addition to the group’s Exclusive Collection—The Orient – Isrotel Exclusive Collection, Jerusalem—in the German Colony at the heart of Western Jerusalem. The 240-guestroom property will reflect Jerusalem’s proud history with Templer architecture and oriental Jerusalem motifs, while also delivering all of the exceptional comfort of a modern-day luxury hotel with amenities including two swimming pools, a luxury spa and wellness center, and kosher restaurants. isrotel.com
- In Eilat, a southern Israeli port city and resort town on the Red Sea, Prima Hotel’s colorful lifestyle property, Prima Music, delivers guests the excitement of Eilat within a relaxed and intimate environment. The 144-guestroom hotel’s unique location allows guests to journey high across sharp black rocks to the top of Mount Solomon, scuba dive in the Red Sea, and experience festivals such as the Eilat International Film Festival and the Eilat Bird Watching Festival without having to travel far outside the city. prima-hotels-israel.com
Take it from travel agent Edna Gritz, co-owner of Soul Travel Inc., Israel is definitely worth a closer look. “Israel is a fascinating country,” says Gritz. “I really didn’t expect much when I got there, but the country was just overwhelming—the beauty, the energy, the food, the people and seeing everyone living together in such harmony. Usually the news tells you otherwise, but when you see Muslims and you see Christians and Jews all walking together inside Jerusalem, which is a tiny city, it’s fascinating. I’ve been to a lot of places [around the word], and all of these places are wonderful and beautiful, but there is nothing like Israel. To me, it was one of the most incredible trips of my life.”
For more information, visit goisrael.com/Tourism_Eng/Pages/home.aspx.