The Main Destination for Israelis This Year: Visit to the USA
By Ilan Shehori
Major tourism wholesalers in Israel are currently getting ready towards a most successful season of Israeli trips to the USA. The competition on New York line, the high cost of the Euro, compared to the low price of the dollar for Israelis, and the feeling of better personal security in the USA, compared to Europe, will probably render 2004 the Israeli tourism year to the USA. Early this week, Israir Company, the third largest airliner in Israel, announced that for the first time it will operate, commencing on June 15, a charter line to New York, which only increased the competition anticipated in this line (see separate item).
The American Embassy in Tel Aviv estimates that more than 450,000 Israelis visited the
USA in 2003. Official data of the American tourism Industry, TIA, talk about 260,000 Israelis, who visited the USA last year, but this datum refers only to the visit of visa holders to the USA, and it does not include the visits of Israelis holding American passport. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics of the State of Israel, 2.7 million Israelis left abroad by air, a decline of 5 percent, compared to 2002. The estimate is that about 15-17 percent of the Israeli travels abroad are to the USA, therefore about half a million Israelis traveled last year to North America.
All major tourism wholesalers in Israel estimate that this year the number of Israelis traveling to the USA will increase by 15-20 percent. This, in light of the significant rise in the number of seats on the USA flights. Among others one may mention Continental Airways, that added second daily flight between Tel Aviv and New York. El Al leased another plane, and in the peak season, in July and August, it plans to operate no less than 28 weekly flights to the USA. This does not include Canada’s airline, Air Canada, as well a European airlines, such as Lufthansa, British Airways, K.L.M. Swiss Air and others, also struggling in the Israeli market, in flying Israelis to North America. The anticipated rise in the number of Israeli visits to the USA occurs in spite of the cumbersomeness and the difficulties encountered last year in receiving visas from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. This, due to increased security measures taken by the Americans, following the events of September 11.
According to Yoav Levy, Deputy Director General Commerce in the Israeli airline, El Al, El Al dedicates most of its resources to the USA line, deemed by the company its main activity. According to Yoav Levy, El AL flies currently the company’s planes directly to New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, and further developments are anticipated in the future in this area. Yoav Levy is not concerned with the USA line competition, and he is certain that El Al will manage to maintain its dominance in the line. “The line to New York is very important to us, it covers our largest volume of activity, and we will continue with determination in order to maintain our dominance in this line”’ says Yoav Levy. According to him, El Al is able to offer variety of products and prices for the New York line, to allow each passenger to realize his requirements. “We are ready with large variety of products, to be used by us as shall be necessary, and according to the competition on this line”, emphasizes El AL Deputy Director General Commerce. Yoav Levy estimates that next year about 100,000 passengers will use El Al planes, one third of all the company’s passengers. Yoav Levy says that in wake of the increase in the company’s activity in the USA, it has leased two planes, 757 and 767, to be used in the flights to Europe, thus allowing larger planes to be used on the line to the USA.
According to Nahum Kara, Director General of the travel wholesaler Natur, the largest tourism agent in Israel, there is no doubt that the market to the USA will grow significantly this year. Nahum Kara says that 20 percent of the products sold by Natur to the travel agents and to the public are to the USA. “Already today we have high demand for organized trips to the USA, mainly the expensive ones, which is quite surprising and definitely points at good season, better than last year, and definitely better than two years ago”, says Nahum Kara.
Rachel Levin, Director General of tourism wholesale in Dizenhaus, also says that the most expensive trips to the USA are the most demanded ones in her company. According to Rachel Levin, the dollar has brought the USA closer to the Israelis, in spite of the rise in hotel prices in New York. Rachel Levy estimates that this year the tourism market to the USA will grow by at least 25 percent “I wish that our other destinations would have been as popular as the USA”, says Rachel Levin.
Boaz Vaxman, Director General of Ophir Tours Chain says that one third of Ophir Tours wholesale activity is aimed at the USA. He says that this year the public shows interst in trips to the USA, much more than in recent years. Therefore he has assigned special offices to deal with the USA. “We estimate this year an increase of 35 percent in organized tours to the USA, and FIT will register an increase of about 20 percent”, says Boaz Vaxman.
Avi Freedman, Director General of Continental Airline in Israel, operating from April a second daily flight between Tel Aviv and New Ark, says that the increase in the Israeli tourism to the USA stems mainly from the high cost of the Euro for the Israelis. Avi Freemdan anticipates a rise of 15 percent in the number of Israelis flying this year to the USA, among others, due to the rise in the number of seats on this line. “There is no doubt that our second flight will have its effect. If all goes well, incoming tourism will return and the security situation will improve, Continental Airlines might consider positively a third daily flight to Israel, if the market so demands. Continental is committed to the Israeli market”, states Avi Freemdan.
Yaki Ben Manahem, Director General of the wholesaler “Rimon Travels” also says that the main tourism activity in the coming season will be to the USA. “26 routes, that are included in our travel brochure for this summer, are trips to the USA. 10 percent of all the organized trips. We feel already today increased demand for these trips, and I am very optimistic towards this summer. As it is, I feel that organized trips gain again their momentum and they return to the map, after the drastic decline caused by the events of September 11”, says Yaki Ben Menahem. He says that tens of thousands of Israelis visit the USA for the second and third time, and they prefer special destination around America