Operators say faith-based tours are still a go

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NEW YORK -- Operators that sell faith-based tours to Israel have seen little of that business recently, but at least two are planning prayer missions with goodwill as their main objective.

Others see clergy-led church groups as their only reliable market for travel to Israel until the situation there stabilizes. Right now, none of the operators' tours of Israel are guaranteed to happen.

JDI Travel in Auburn Hills, Mich., is featuring a JDI Prayer and Ministry Conference Tour this October along with about 10 other Christian faith-based tours to Israel within the next 12 months, according to JDI president Christine Milan.

The seven-night prayer tour, Oct. 28 through Nov. 6, will be pastor-led and will focus on sites of biblical significance. It also will include visits to hospitals as well as prayer meetings with Israeli Christians.

"This particular tour is 60% to 70% focused on telling the Israeli people there are people out there who care about their situation, and about 30% [about] touring the sites," Milan said.

A rate of $1,950 per person includes roundtrip air from Chicago to Tel Aviv, seven nights' accommodations, full breakfasts and dinners, one lunch and seven days of guided coach touring. Commission is 10%.

For groups of 20 or more, the rate is $1,750 per person, also commissionable at 10%, or $1,750 per person, net, with every sixth passenger traveling free.

Though the departure is not guaranteed, Milan said this particular tour is JDI Travel's "marketing priority." The minimum passenger count is 15, and as of last week, about five people had signed on, Milan said.

"We have one signature tour every fall that we escort ourselves and is our baby, and this is it," she said.

Ya'lla Tours USA, Portland, Ore., was inspired to create an interfaith Pray for Peace Mission to Israel in the wake of Sept. 11, according to Kyna Perry, product development manager.

This fishing boat, which dates to the time of Jesus, was discovered during a drought in 1986. It is featured on tours that visit Tiberias. If the prayer mission happens (as of press time, no one had signed on for the tour), the company pledges to donate $100 per participant to the American Red Cross Liberty Disaster Relief Fund.

"We designed this when things weren't quite as hot as they have been in the last several months," Perry said.

Right after Sept. 11, Perry said she and Ronen Paldi, president of Ya'lla Tours, came up with the notion of a tour that would foster tolerance.

"It was based on the idea of people traveling with a common mission, and not in terms of who they are spiritually. It's a humanitarian statement rather than a Christian, Jewish or Islamic one."

Scheduled for Nov. 11 to 21, the Pray for Peace Mission to Israel is priced at $2,095 per person, double. Commission is 12%.

The package includes roundtrip air from Newark; accommodations at Sheraton City Tower in Tel Aviv (one night), Caesar in Tiberias (two nights) and the Hyatt Regency in Jerusalem (five nights); daily breakfast and dinner; guided coach touring; and transfers, portage and all entrance fees.

One of the itinerary's eight days is dedicated to interfaith prayer and healing at the Jerusalem YMCA, after a visit to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

Despite all the planning, Perry said "it's really questionable if it's going to go. We've had calls from agents, but no one's signed up yet."

Arlie Francis, owner of Christian and missionary travel-focused Horizon Tours and Travel, San Antonio, said, "We do not have a lot on the docket right now, in all honesty. In the fall, if things continue to settle, we're going to run regularly scheduled tours out of Newark."

Until then, Horizon is planning only private-label tours to Israel with churches and ministry organizations, including a Messianic Jewish congregation group in June and a Dig the Bible biblical archaeology study tour, Nov. 4 to 15.

Agents can book clients on the 10-night biblical archaeology tour at a rate of $2,530 per person, double, Francis said, with a 10% commission.

Sites to be visited on the tour include the recent excavation of the Pool of Bethsaida, where, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus restored the sight of a blind man. Other aspects of the itinerary are contingent on safety.

Also a bible teacher, Francis said he travels with the majority of groups to Israel. Francis will be co-escorting this one with "Digger" Doyle Lynch, who holds degrees in archaeology and religion from Baylor University and established and maintains Dig the Bible, a biblical archaeology Web site for the lay audience, located at www.digbible.org.

So far, 13 people have registered for the Dig the Bible tour. "It's very likely to depart," Francis said. "We're promoting it through churches, my Web site, through Dig the Bible's Web site, and we've just contracted for an advertisement in Biblical Archaeology Review.

"The bulk of our business comes from the evangelical Christian market, where fear is less of a factor," he added. "Those people have more of a commitment level for visiting Israel than the average tourist, who may be afraid to go at this time."

The company's last regularly scheduled tours to Israel were last spring, he said. "People tend to trust what a pastor says," Francis said of relying on pastor-led groups in selling Israel. "You don't quite have that kind of credibility when you're dealing with the open market."

Book It: Operators selling tours

Horizon Tours and Travel
Phone: (888) 700-8410 or (210) 657-7120
E-Mail:[email protected]
Web:www.horizontoursandtravel.com

JDI Travel
Phone: (248) 340-9191
E-mail:[email protected]
Web:www.jditravel.com

Ya'lla Tours USA
Phone: (800) 644-1595 or (503) 977-3758
E-mail:[email protected]
Web:www.yallatours.com

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