Travel Status Update – Israel
March 28, 2020
We trust you and your loved ones are staying healthy and maintaining a strong faith and positive attitude through the health crisis we are facing. The current crisis is an unfolding situation, and our prayers continue for those who have contracted the virus, for our nation and the world, and that the virus will be conquered and will abate very quickly.
With the worsening of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, Israel decided several weeks ago to close its borders to tourism and only allow arriving travelers into the country who could be quarantined in a private residence for a period of 14 days. With over 200 passengers scheduled to go to Israel during March, we and our groups were disappointed but fully understood. However, every group has decided to reschedule for dates in the fall. Depending on how the situation continues to develop, groups scheduled for later in the spring may still go, and we are hopeful that travel will return to some sense of normalcy by late June. Our staff is working mostly from home at this time, but we remain available by email or phone to answer questions and assist tour hosts and passengers in any way we can as we await updates from U. S. and Israeli authorities.
Ed Hill Tours has been making travel dreams come true for Christians travelers since 1962…no other Christian travel company has done it as long. We have gone through other storms – wars, terrorism, economic downturns, and other health crises. Although in many ways, the current situation is unlike any other, we believe the expertise we have gained through other crises, informs our response to this one. We will continue to work alongside our foreign travel partners and pastors and tour hosts to determine the best course of action for their travel events.
We believe that “this too will pass”, and the desire for exceptional spiritual experiences in destinations such as Israel, will be as strong or stronger than ever. Although now is a moment to pause, don’t stop dreaming of an amazing journey in, we believe, the near future.
Debunking Israel/Holy Land Travel Myths…
Since it’s inception as a nation, Israel has experienced times of unrest, terror attacks and wars, yet Israel is actually one of the safest places on earth. For instance, most crime as we know it in the U. S. is not prevalent or non-existent in Israel. Israeli security, both on ELAL Israel Airlines and in the country, is probably the best in the world. To our knowledge, no tourist visiting Israel has ever been killed. Of course, EHT travel itineraries never go to any area of possible danger, including cities and towns in the West Bank or anywhere near the Gaza Strip.
“It is expensive to visit Israel.” Travel costs to almost anywhere seem to become more expensive every year. Many destinations, such as London, Paris and Tokyo are very expensive. However, compared to those and many other destinations, Israel is still in the moderate category. Prices charged by different tour companies can still vary widely as we’ll explain in more detail later in this blog.
“The larger the tour company, the better the tour.” Not necessarily! That’s like comparing the overall quality of a large hotel to a small hotel based only on the size of the building. For American tour companies specializing in Christian group travel, EHT is a moderate size company. Our travel partner in Israel is usually recognized as that country’s largest incoming tour operator. However, simply being a large company is no guarantee of the best travel product, and certainly not the best personal service. For instance, we know of larger travel companies that consistently use older buses, lower level guides and drivers, and less expensive hotels. Why? Because the tour company saves a lot of money renting old buses, employing lower level or inexperienced guides, and of course, lower quality hotels. We use only the latest coaches and hotels rated Superior 4-Star and 5-Star in excellent locations, and our guides are experts in the Christian tour, are among the most requested in Israel, and have worked with us for many years.
“The hotel you stay in doesn’t really matter since you only sleep there.” Just sleeping in a 2 or 3-Star hotel is usually not a pleasant experience, but groups do much more than just sleep at a hotel. The typical touring schedule means groups are at their hotel from 5 pm until 8 am the next morning. That includes dinner and breakfast, and the better the hotel, the better the food and service. Of course, the budget of most groups does not afford the finest luxury hotels, but that’s not necessary to enjoy an excellent hotel and very good service.
“The best tour companies include lunches.” We can certainly include lunches if a tour host wishes to do so. However when tour hosts realize that the cost of the so-called “free lunches” plus a profit to the tour company will be added to their overall tour price, they usually see it differently – it is simply not the “Free lunch” some companies promote. When lunches are included, the group will have lunches at pre-selected stops where everyone is effectively paying the same amount for lunch no matter what they eat, if they bring their own lunch, or eat nothing. Tour members don’t realize they have already paid for lunches in their tour cost, but the tour company can say they included “free lunches.” As the old saying goes, “there is no free lunch.” The same practice applies to the “free water” on the bus some companies advertise…an amount was already figured into the tour cost!
“All airlines are basically the same.” Not true. Airline travel in general is certainly not “glamorous” or as easy as it once was. Most airlines put as many seats on their planes as possible to produce more revenue. Of course, the comfort, food and service is much better in Business Class for those willing to spend considerably more. But even a less expensive upgrade to Economy Plus or Premium Class can make quite a difference in comfort and service. Some tour companies use charter flights – old planes, poor service, long waits at connecting airports…not a good idea. Some tour companies will use flights on a national airline that connects in Europe. This can work reasonably well or can be a nightmare! Groups often find themselves with no escort at the connecting airport, and are left to find their way around a huge, crowded foreign airport on their own. Then they must go through a long security line after having gone through one before leaving the U. S. Large airports such as Frankfurt, London, Paris, or Istanbul can be intimidating to even experienced travelers. That’s why we prefer nonstop flights to Israel on ELAL, United, or Delta from gateways such as New York/Newark, Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Toronto. EL Al has recently added service from San Francisco, and limited schedules from Las Vegas and Orlando.
“Most tour companies charge about the same prices.” or “Some tour companies offer really good deals.” Generally you get what you pay for. While it is true that airlines and hotels usually offer the same rates to most tour companies, that can depend on loyalty or the volume a tour company does with a hotel chain or individual property. And of course, either large or small tour companies can work on much different profit margins. Prospective tour hosts should be aware of deceptive advertising. When a tour company advertises a “come on” price that sounds too good to be true, that’s exactly the case…it’s not true! Their ad may state (in large print) a price which may be just the “land only” price (no airfare included). Or the tour company’s ad may leave out a major item such as the airline fuel surcharge, now termed “carrier-imposed fee.” This fee alone is now $600 to $700 for travel to Israel. Most know this type of advertising is simple “bait and switch,” but often a first-time tour host will be taken in. These companies invariably have a problem retaining clients though, because once fooled, most will not be fooled again.
“Pastors always add an additional profit margin to their selling price.” Certainly not most or even the majority. Most Deluxe 11 or 12-day Israel tours should sell in the $4000 to $4500 range at present, although prices will vary with the season of travel, airfare and hotel rates in effect at any given time, specific hotels, etc. Some nationally-known pastors and “television personalities” may add an amount to their selling price above the actual cost of the tour. To make the tour as affordable as possible to the most passengers, we know that most pastors who travel with us do NOT add an additional profit to their tour price. But when you see a tour price that is significantly higher than most, it usually means the tour host is adding a profit amount for themselves. It is not my intent to to say it is right or wrong to do so, but only that a higher tour price does not necessarily mean a tour is a better quality tour in any way. It simply does mean that the “personality” tour host knows that people will pay a more to travel with them.