Travel to Israel 'going in right direction'

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WASHINGTON -- The change in wording in the U.S. State Departments travel warning about Israel was subtle, but one travel marketer said it has made a difference for tourism.

Gabi Mor, the U.S. director of marketing for Dan Hotels, a luxury chain based in Israel, said bookings jumped significantly in the days following April 7. Thats when the State Department updated its longstanding travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Unlike previous updates, the latest did not specifically warn against travel to Israel.

It was like day and night, Mor said. The increase in bookings was about 30% or 40% [compared with the same time last year], but it might be more.

The bulk of the bookings have been for April through September, Mor said.

Travel to Israel is going in the right direction, he said.

But other Israel marketers said that if there is a turnaround taking place, it probably has little to do with the rewording of the travel warning.

I personally dont believe the State Department warnings have anything to do with it, said Ady Gelber, president of New York-based Isram World of Travel, an Israel specialist.

Traveler interest in Israel goes back the last couple of months, back to when [Palestinian Prime Minister] Abu Mazen and [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon started to get along, Gelber said. That news affects it much more than the State Department. A nice picture of Sharon and Abu Mazen shaking hands affects it much more.

The change in the wording of the State Department warning is having no effect [on bookings], added Ronen Paldi, president of Portland, Ore.-based Yalla Tours, which specializes in tours to Israel.

However, Tourism has been on the rise since eight months ago. The people going knew very well that the advisory had nothing to do with the reality on the ground. Bookings are very strong. Our biggest problem is to find the air space.

The updated travel warning for Israel does indicate that the security situation remains volatile.

For instance, it noted that Israeli forces are investigating between 40 and 60 planned terrorist attacks at anytime.

However, the number of attacks within Israel have declined in both frequency and associated casualties, according to the advisory, which also noted that the anticipated evacuation of Israeli settlers from Gaza could lead to violence in Israel by settler groups.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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