Raphi Bloom
Raphi Bloom
Co Chair of North West Friends of Israel

How will Passover programs bounce back from Covid-19?

Copyright - Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Resort, Puerto Rico
Copyright - Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Resort , Puerto Rico

Why was this year different to other years?

A play on the question we all ask during Seder –but one that when answered certainly showed that not only is the Passover Program industry resilient but also that Kosher travelers have not lost any of their appetite for travel.

The devastating effect on Passover programs in 2020

Around this time last year, we were hearing almost daily news of Passover programs cancelling their programs across the world. Totally Jewish Travel.com is the biggest Kosher travel site on the internet, with thousands of visitors to our website every day, and carrying advertising for over 140 Pesach programs each year. As such, we were best placed to provide a comprehensive overview of what was happening as COVID struck the world – and more specifically the Passover program landscape.

With every program cancelling and operators facing substantial financial losses – from food already purchased, hotels refusing to refund money paid for rooms, entertainment already paid for – coupled with each company, in most cases, trying their best to refund customers many industry insiders debated whether the Passover program industry would ever recover.

The kosher travel industry was recovering – slowly and only in certain areas

As September 2020 – the traditional time that Pesach programs begin to start marketing their programs – approached and the world was still in the deathly grip of COVID the Passover scene was completely quiet. In conversations with dozens of Totally Jewish Travel’s clients we were hearing the same message; either that it is too soon to decide or that certain operators would sit out 2021. However, as December approached, we began to see the green shoots of something beginning to happen. A number of Passover programs began to market their packages. And then more joined and before the end of January we had around 40 hotels promoting and advertising Passover 2021 on our website.  Hilit Edelstein from Kosherica explains their decision – “We felt compelled to do Pesach this year because we made a commitment to our guests in 2020 that we will host them in 2021. The industry also looks at Kosherica as a leader in Kosher travel. We felt obliged to take the first step to give our community hope that life can resume again, even with safety protocols in place”.

The geographic spread was interesting. In the USA, Florida – Miami, the Palm Beaches and Orlando – made up the bulk of programs and several locations higher up the USA’s east coast were also proving popular. Mexico and Central America was also very busy. Smaller programs also began promoting themselves in California and Canada. In Europe we saw Pesach vacations in France, Italy, Croatia and Switzerland begin to target their audiences along with Morocco and of course Dubai. Israeli programs that would normally target foreign guests pivoted to the local market.

So, what has happened in 2021?

The response from the Kosher travel market – even for industry veterans like myself and my partner Yaniv with decades of experience between us – was phenomenal. Enquires to the Passover program operators advertising with us started to fly in. The interest and desire from Kosher travelers to go away for Pesach was off the scale, with demand definitely beating the limited supply of programs we had this year. Indeed, some programs started a waiting list at the beginning of February!

Of course, many people asked the pertinent and relevant questions about each program’s COVID safety protocols and many ran at 50%-75% capacity compared to previous years so that social distancing could be maintained. Buffets were not self-service and temperature checks were carried out on a regular basis. Some hotels even demanded negative PCR tests before arriving. All were keen to be as accommodating as possible as expanded on by Joel Weinberger of Costa Rica Kosher Adventures “The hotel staff were very respectful and cooperative. They were very happy to have work. It’s been tough in Costa Rica without the tourist trade”

And yes, some hotels – particularly in Europe – had to cancel late on or restrict their guests to their own citizens as their countries went into lockdown again. Overall, however, most of the programs ran and provided an excellent – and COVID safe – Passover program experience for their guests. I am delighted that Totally Jewish Travel provided over 60% of the total bookings for many of our advertisers and that we played our part in helping the industry bounce back.

So, what will happen to Passover programs in 2022?

Next Passover – should G-d willing – see things return to normal and we look forward only having to ask “why is this night different” in 2022. As always, Totally Jewish Travel will have our finger on the pulse of the industry and provide updated information as the travel situation evolves. Stay tuned!

About the Author
Raphi Bloom is co-Chair of North West Friends of Israel, the UK's largest pro Israel grassroots organisation. He regularly speaks on TV and on university campuses and schools in the UK to speak for, and debate on behalf of, Israel. He is also the spokesperson for the Israel Coalition, of which NWFOI is a member. In his professional career Raphi is the Director of Fundraising and Marketing at The Fed which is Manchester's largest Jewish social care charity and co-founder of TotallyJewishTravel.com, the web's biggest Jewish travel website.
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