Jews lose as Israel tourism targets Christians

By Jessica Elgot, October 14, 2010

The managing director of one of the UK's major Israel travel agents has hit out at the country's tourist industry for high prices and "neglecting Jewish tourists".

Simon Israel, of Expert Travel in Golders Green, said Israel was becoming a "once-in-a-lifetime destination, like Australia or China".

He said: "Much of the blame lies with El Al and the hotels in Israel for the decline of Jewish tourism. Passengers booking within six weeks of travel, who wanted to visit Israel in July or August, were often faced with fares of between £600 and £700.

"Hotel prices have in many instances increased by 40 per cent in the past two years. It is not unusual to quote a family £10,000 or more for two weeks - in a so-called five-star hotel".

He said the Israel Government Tourist Office (IGTO) in the UK ignored the needs of Jewish tourists to concentrate on the larger Christian sector.

"If Israel and El Al want to encourage British Jews to return, then they must wake up to the real reasons why this sector of the market is in decline."

But Rafi Shalev, director of IGTO, said: "I don't think the hotels in Israel are making an excessive profit. We are putting a lot of effort into getting Christian tourists to come to Israel because we think we can double the number. But it is very separate to the Jewish market, who know the country, the culture and have friends there.

"People compare the prices to the other Red Sea resorts. But the Israeli product is much more expensive - look at how much an Egyptian is paid per month to work in a hotel. Israeli staff earn that in a few days."

Alan Aziz, executive director of the Zionist Federation, said: "I agree with him to a certain extent, but Israel is not a charity case. There have been times in recent years where, because of the conflict, the tourism industry has suffered. Now Israel should recoup some of the costs. Israel is worth every penny."

Last updated: 4:17pm, October 14 2010