NEW YORK -- Some tour operators have modified itineraries and/or
relaxed cancellation policies for travelers booked to Israel and
the Middle East, but tourism professionals who specialize in the
region remain cautiously optimistic about future business.
Before the latest violence, traffic to the Middle East was
booming. Cooperation between Israel and two of its neighbors --
Egypt and Jordan -- was starting to pay off with increased visitor
traffic to all three countries, said Samir Khalil of Misr Travel
Groups to Egypt for the coming season are still holding, he
said, although he expects group numbers to shrink in size.
An El Al spokeswoman said, "We have had very little in the way
of cancellations," but, to help travelers during this period,
Israel's carrier instituted a policy through Nov. 1 of offering
refunds for nonrefundable tickets.
Elie Sidawi, president of Sunny Land Tours in Hackensack, N.J.,
said, "We are modifying programs to the Middle East to omit Israel
and offer Egypt."
Travelers holding travel arrangements to the region on Sunny
Land Tours will have no cancellation penalties; they may rebook for
the future or request full refunds.
"As of today, the Middle East situation is unpredictable,"
Sidawi said, "and we are considering our options and operations one
day at a time."
Ady Gelber, president of New York-based Isram World of Travel,
is urging travelers to hold on even while he has expanded his
policy of offering full credits for those who opt to postpone their
Gelber said Isram is "operating tours normally" and had 500
clients in Israel during the clashes, but that "no one is coming
home or canceling."
If clients were patient but ultimately had to cancel, Isram
promised to add a $100 credit to its standing offer of applying
money already paid to a future trip to any of its destinations
The crisis hit Israel at its peak tourist season, which is
dominated by heavy travel for the fall Jewish holidays.
"We have dozens of family groups there for the holidays," said
Meir Weingarten, president of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Ariel Tours.
"They all say they are OK and say there's no reason to cancel."
Moreover, he said, "we are hopeful that things will go back to
the great season we had until now."
At least one travel agent took a serious hit, however. Sandi
Goldschmidt, a travel consultant with the Travel Group in Englewood
Cliffs, N.J., said she had 60 clients, most of them Jewish FITs,
who were scheduled to travel to Israel this month. About a third
One group was adamant about not canceling its plans.
A 12-day pilgrimage to Israel from San Antonio, organized by
Portland, Ore.-based Ya'lla Tours USA and led by Ya'lla president
Ronen Paldi, departed on schedule Oct. 9 with more than the 160
They were headed to the Tabernacles festival held annually in
Jerusalem. Paldi said prior to departure he expected no problems
even on the journey from Tiberias to Jerusalem, on a road that
borders the West Bank.