Holy Holidays

Religious travel to Israel continues to riseReligious travel to Israel continues to rise

By: Judi Erickson

Holiday travel to Israel, which recently saw some of the strongest numbers since violence broke out nearly five years ago, is expected to remain popular during the upcoming religious holidays. Despite some concerns about regional unrest, many tour operators say interest in Holy Land travel is resuming. Bethlehem remains a popular Christmas destination, and tourists are already making plans for Easter and Passover travel to Jerusalem.

Removing Red Tape
Last year, Israel and Palestinian officials worked to boost religious travel to the region by simplifying checkpoints between Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem, allowing tourists to take in the city’s many biblical sites and monuments. Tourism ministers of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority in the wake of concerns about possible disruptions after this summer’s Gaza and West Bank resettlements are working to develop tourism packages that would include 18- and 22-day visits. The ministers also want the U.S. government to lift its travel advisory to the region.

Travel Trends
Despite periodic unrest and government warnings, travel to Israel has continued to surge, with the country hosting 1.37 million tourists last year and projections for 2 million this year, including more than a half-million North Americans.

Several tour operators are also wooing tourists to Israel by offering holiday travel packages. Tlalim Tours in Washington, D.C., in cooperation with the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, is offering an eight-day trip for 20- and 30-somethings from Dec. 25-Jan. 2. The trip includes a candlelit tunnel tour in Jerusalem, a hike of the Red Canyon, a Jeep tour of the Golan Heights and a New Year’s Eve party on the beaches of Eilat. Israel Tour Connection is offering a Passover 2006 family tour set for April 9-21, which includes accommodations at the Sheraton Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, a Passover Seder at the hotel, walking tours of the Old City and visits to the Museum of the Diaspora and the mountain fortress of Masada.

Resort Renovations
Resort operator Club Med is considering reopening and renovating its Achziv property in northern Israel by early 2007, which could give the region a significant tourism boost. In cooperation with the Israel Ministry of Tourism, Club Med also launched a new marketing campaign for its all-inclusive resort in Eilat. While much of the effort is aimed at French tourists, which officials hope will double by the end of next year, it also offers U.S. travelers and agents a growing range of accommodations. After a deadly explosion, Club Med’s Achziv vacation village closed in 1997. Now, with the improving climate, company officials are looking into reopening the resort.

Israel’s largest international hotel chain, Sheraton Moriah Israel, with nine hotels and approximately 2,200 rooms in the region, recently announced plans to invest $20 million in upgrades and renovations to several hotels. With flagship properties, such as the Sheraton Moriah in Tel Aviv and the Sheraton Plaza in Jerusalem, the company also launched a variety of packages for niche travelers.

At the Sheraton Moriah, a romantic Nights in White Satin package includes white silk sheets, robes and slippers, an in-room candlelit gourmet dinner for two, a 30-minute couple’s massage at the hotel spa and a bottle of wine. The hotel’s Pensioners’ Package, meanwhile, offers guided morning walks to Jaffa on the

Tel Aviv promenade; daily morning exercise on the Tel Aviv beach; a variety of lectures and activities, including artistic performances, dancing and sing-a-longs.


Club Med

Israel Ministry of Tourism

Israel Tour Connection


Tlalim Tours