NEW YORK -- What role should travel agents play when clients are
looking to visit a destination deemed unsafe by the U.S.
This is the question retailers selling Israel are facing when it
comes to clients seeking to visit the Holy Land. Travel Weekly
recently put the question to ASTA president Richard Copland.
"Certainly, it is difficult for an agent to recommend going to
Israel at this time unless it's some type of an emergency," he
said. "Agents are advocates for the traveling public," Copland
continued. "They have a responsibility to be aware of government
advisories" and to present that knowledge to the client, even if it
seems reasonable to assume the client is well aware of a
"I can't believe anyone doesn't know what's going on," he said,
"but the agent still has a responsibility to let [clients] know,
give advice and counseling. Then it's up to the client to make the
Regarding Israel's recovery once conditions improve, Sharna
Blumenfeld, president of ASTA's Southern Nevada chapter, suggested
low-cost fams, marketed to the travel trade, clergy and
organizational leaders, as the best way for the Israel Ministry of
Tourism and tour operators to get the word out that the Holy Land
is safe for tourism again.
"Israeli tour operators are extremely attuned to safety issues
and are the best in the world at knowing where, when and how to
take visitors to the major attractions," Blumenfeld said. "In order
for consumers to feel a bit safer, they must see groups going and
coming with no incidents."
Penny Hawkins, owner of Lakes Area Travel Plus in Commerce
Township, Mich., and president of ASTA's Michigan chapter, said
clients still will go to Israel, no matter how dangerous it is.
"We recently had a group of about 25, including a half-dozen
children, who took a religious trip to Israel," she said. "We
warned them about the travel, and their answer to us was that God
will protect them. They all came back and [said they] had a great
time. I was flabbergasted."
Thomas L. Keefe, president of Addison Travel in Andover, Mass.,
and president of ASTA's New England chapter, said he has had little
interest in Israel travel, but he's hopeful for the future.
"We, as agents, have a responsibility to our customers to give
them every warning and tell it like it is," he said.