Jewish Journal


November 22, 2001

Traveler Trepidation


Of all the businesses affected by both Sept. 11 and the recession, the tourism industry is perhaps the hardest hit. Business has come almost to a standstill for travel agents and tour operators in the Los Angeles area, and nationwide.

"We have corporate clients who are still traveling, but the leisure travel business is completely down," said Ricki Bergman, of Ricki Bergman Travel Syndicate, an American Express office, in Woodland Hills.

Reservations are down by almost 80 percent, according to Yosef Naiman, owner of Jerusalem Tours on Fairfax. The majority of his clientele travel between Los Angeles and New York and Los Angeles and Israel. At Calig World Travel and Cruises, in Woodland Hills, the story is pretty much the same.

"People aren't flying, period, if they don't have to," said Jerusalem Tours President and CEO Marsha Calig.

National tour operators who coordinate trips for travelers throughout the United States and worldwide are experiencing the same thing as locally based travel companies. Kosher Expeditions, based in Atlanta, canceled its fall tours to international destinations, and cut back most of its staff to part-time. Only small groups of seasoned travelers are keeping their reservations for overseas trips.

"Kosher travel is probably the most affected. All kosher tours are planned to return home before Shabbos. If you get stuck in an airport, you may not get home in time and you're probably going to be without kosher food. People don't want to pay all this money for a trip only to get stuck in that situation," said Kosher Expeditions manager David Lawrence.

Israel Discovery Tours usually operates 18 tours, sending 3,000 tourists to Israel each year. So far, those figures are down by about 60 percent for the Chicago-based company. Some families are still going on bar/bat mitzvah tours, others are afraid to leave home, according to the company's president, Ilene Wallerstein.

"Our people flying El Al feel secure. If they use other carriers from Europe to Israel, there is a lot of security," Wallerstein said. "Our tours are strictly Jewish. They are not anywhere near the West Bank. Security is always excellent in Israel."

Lack of travel to Israel is a sore point for many Jewish travel agents and operators.

"Israel is in a very serious way economically because of all the terrorism. The U.S. is seeing what it's like to live with terrorism, something Israel has been doing for years," Bergman said. "I don't see any outcry of Jewish organizations here in L.A., or elsewhere in the U.S. Jewish organizations not showing solidarity with Israel is really psychologically damaging to Israel."

In spite of the huge drop in travelers, agents and operators are optimistic that business will pick up, though not for overseas travel. Instead, customers will look to stay close to home, opting for vacations where they can drive or take trains.

"We are really looking to the drive market. People feel that, God forbid if something happens, they can jump in the car and get home," said Yakov Stevens, president of Tripsetter, in Toronto, which specializes in group travel in Canada and the United States.

As a result, destinations like Las Vegas are expected to be popular on the West Coast. Kosher Expeditions is promoting its trips to Wyoming dude ranches, American ski resorts and a possible Disneyland Passover package.

Cruises to Hawaii, Mexico, Alaska and the Caribbean are expected to be huge draws, with many cruise lines offering deep discounts as incentive.

"Princess completely turned around its itinerary from Europe, where they did great, and instead is focusing on the domestic cruise market," Bergman said.

Calig is moving forward with the annual travel show her company holds in January. Representatives from all major cruise lines and resorts are on hand to meet with travel agents as well as consumers. Calig is hoping the event will jump-start travel for the year.

"This is what the Taliban want -- for people to be afraid. All the safety precautions are made. Security is fantastic," Calig said. "People have to realize it's OK to go on living, to go out there and have a good time. We're not going to be on hold forever." -- S.F.

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