Israel, by its very nature, is the personification of a family destination. It’s home to the Ark of the Covenant, the Old and the New Testament, as well as the Koran, giving it a sense of familiarity to Christian, Jew and Muslim alike, while family-oriented Israeli culture itself, breeds a familial atmosphere that makes family travel there easy and fun.
In fact, walk by an El Al counter in any major airport in the world and you’ll always see a disproportionate number of families lined up to check-in. “Israel has always been a destination for family travel,” says A. Ady Gelber, president/CEO, IsramWorld, “because of the bar mitzvah, because of the parents wanting to take kids to see the places they learned about in Sunday school…. But what’s happening now in the market is that a lot of tour operators are trying to bring family groups to other destinations as a niche, a travel niche—which we are, too, of course—to India, to China and so forth. But in Israel always—during the summer season and when school is out—the majority of travelers were families with kids. So it’s not something that’s new for Israel.”
Gelber also points out that it’s important not to confuse the religious traveler to Israel with the family travel niche. “It’s not the religious people, they’ll always go. We’re talking about the regular Mr. and Mrs. America—because of the Sunday school, because of the education—if they can afford it, they’ll do whatever they can to always travel as a family to Israel.”
Still, in the Jewish segment, Gelber says, the best-selling point is for the “…bar mitzvah for the boys and the bat mitzvah celebration for the daughters, with everything being done in Israel where it’s more memorable than just to have it in the synagogue in the United States.” He adds that many people do both. “They have one at home, then a second celebration where they bring their friends and many of them have families in Israel.”
In that category, one of IsramWorld’s best-selling programs is the 13-night The Ultimate Family & Bar/Bat Mitzvah Tour, two weeks of family fun with comprehensive group sightseeing, a professional tour manager and a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony atop Masada—Israel’s ancient symbol of defiance and courage—followed by a celebratory feast for everyone in the party. Other highlights of this program include visits to the Herodian Excavations, the Rabbinical Tunnel, the Davidson Center, Time Elevator and the Mini Israel Park. Clients will also enjoy an archaeological dig, a camel ride in the desert, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, kayaking on the Jordan River and a visit to an army base. Rates run from $6,955.
Still another program that’s become extremely popular with family travelers, Gelber says, is the Eilat 3-day extension with a 1-day excursion to Petra in Jordan. “One of the big attractions now when you go to Israel is the fact that you can go to Petra. It’s a new twist—you go down to Eilat and then you go over to Petra for a day,” he says. “I also found that many now are also going to the Dead Sea for the adventure experiences there.”
The program includes roundtrip air from Tel Aviv to Eilat and 3-night hotel accommodations in the beach resort town, with daily Israeli buffet breakfast and a fourth night free starting from $1,048. The day excursion to Petra runs $166 for adults; $146 for children under 12 and $90 for children under 6.
picasso tours Virginia Chaves, director of global tour operations for Picasso Tours, also cites Israel as an extremely family-friendly destination that makes family travel a lot easier to handle. “First of all, culturally, Israel is very, very family-oriented. It’s a natural extension to any tourism. There are no programs that we offer where children are not welcome, and it’s easy to travel with kids there. And for kids, it’s a living history,” she points out. “It’s the easiest way for kids to learn about archaeology and history—just the natural wonders of that part of the world. They take it all in like a spoon full of sugar because it’s just such a beautiful destination and it’s so much fun.”