NEW YORK -- As the troubles in the Holy Land continue despite the
tentative steps toward peace made in June, mainstream agents are
finding Israel a difficult destination to deal with in their
relations with clients.
Agents reported little or no client interest in trips to Israel,
though each recommended and regularly sold visits to the Holy Land
in the past.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which erupted last fall,
"There are no requests, and at this point I wouldn't feel
comfortable at all selling Israel," said Bonnie Minutillo, travel
consultant at Travl Travl Travl in Chicago.
In better times, Minutillo said, there was "interest and
activity" to Israel, "but with the situation last fall, it just
Vicki Sammartino, owner of Gordon Travel Service in Pittsburgh,
tried to promote a group tour to Israel, but the trip never got off
the ground due to lack of interest.
Like other agents, Sammartino said she considers Israel a
"wonderful destination," but has difficulty in suggesting the
country as a place to visit with the current problems.
"Customers are just afraid to travel there," Sammartino said.
"Basically, they ask me and I have to tell them what I read in the
papers, but they are very well aware of the conditions.
"Obviously, I will sell a trip to Israel if someone comes in and
wants it and understands the conditions and the problems that can
ensue. As for recommending it, I don't."
Babette Rinis, president of Rinis Travel Service in Silver
Spring, Md., said her leisure business to Israel has been "almost
"I'm not uncomfortable about [traveling to Israel], and I would
go, but I'm not traveling," said Rinis. "The clientele is not as
comfortable, and people just aren't coming in about [Israel]."
To counter the perceptions spread by television and other news
media, the Israel Ministry of Tourism recently introduced an
advertising campaign with the tag line, "The Israel you don't see
on the nightly news."
The ads use pictures of tourists at notable Israeli sites,
indicating the date of the photo. The idea: People are traveling to
Israel, and it's safe.
"I get a feeling of sadness seeing [the ads] because it's such a
beautiful place," said Minutillo.
Sammartino has seen the ministry's ad campaign and agrees with
its message that the majority of Israel is unaffected by the
She has personal experience with how the mainstream media can
distort perceptions -- she was in Cairo following a plane hijacking
in the '80s, and television news coverage focused on anti-Western
demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy.
But Sammartino spent eight days in the city and didn't see
anything or have any problems.
Yet, she said, it's essential for agents to pay attention to
world events, if only to protect themselves legally or
"You have to be conscious of the news media," said Sammartino.
"We are so vulnerable for every little thing."
Agents generally agreed on the notion that business to Israel
would pick up once peace was reestablished. Still, it will be a
"It would take some time to boost up, but I would have no
hesitation selling that area," said Minutillo. "When it comes back,
they've got a lot of work ahead of them."