Lessons learned over the past nine months offer hope for upcoming Jewish holiday and Pesach vacation travel
Summer and Sukkot Programs give us hope for winter and Pesach vacations
After Pesach was “cancelled” last year and everyone stayed home, people were ready to get out and started booking summer vacations and Sukkot programs.
There were great summer program options in Switzerland, Italy, Morocco, France, Portugal, Israel and Cyprus. For those who preferred a smaller crowd, a very popular summer vacation option was kosher villa rentals and custom tailored kosher family vacations all over the world. Many families wanted to take a family vacation but preferred to be more isolated.
People were very happy to be able to get away for Sukkot vacation. Eli Danzig and Avi Netzer ran successful programs in Italy; Yoni Kahana in Cyprus and Royal Passover and Kosher Luxus in Cancun – each had close to 500 guests.
The tour operators implemented strict coronavirus procedures including, negative coronavirus test results prior to arriving at the program, daily temperature taking, maintaining hygiene rules and sitting two meters apart. The program operators offered very generous refund and cancellation policies to alleviate guests’ concerns due to COVID-19. The travel industry must now accommodate the uncertainty of the global situation by offering clear refund and cancellation policies.
Hanukkah and Winter Vacation Opportunities
Hanukkah is just around the corner and winter vacation is not far behind. After the success of summer and Sukkot programs, there are many options for winter vacations this year. The newest exciting kosher vacation destinations include the UAE and Bahrain. There are a number of kosher winter vacation programs in Dubai and one at the Ritz-Carlton in Bahrain. Other warm winter vacation destinations include Morocco, Jamaica and private villas in the Caribbean, Thailand and Sri Lanka. If you prefer snow and skiing there are kosher programs in Switzerland, France, Italy and Bulgaria.
What to expect from Passover Programs in 2021: reservations, deposits and refund policies
Passover programs under the veil of COVID-19 will look different from Passover programs of the past. The Pesach programs will have to reflect the “new normal” and take into consideration the difficulties faced last year with program cancellations. We have already seen program operators successfully deal with these issues on Sukkot.
We will see smaller programs in terms of guest numbers to allow operators to maintain social distancing around food and tefillot. This will potentially make the programs more service oriented with better staff attention and service. It might also mean better access to amenities.
Expect to see programs introduce safety measures such as temperature checks, hand sanitizing, mask wearing, intense regular cleaning and mostly al la carte table service with limited or no buffets. Program operators will be taking reservations and deposits closer to Pesach.
I spoke to a number of operators to find out how they are dealing with deposits, cancellations and corona restrictions for Passover programs in 2021:
Joey Freudmann of Ophir Tours is asking for a $100 deposit when guests make reservations for his program this year, as opposed to the $1000 that they have asked in previous years. Ophir tours gave full refunds to all of their guests after their Passover programs were cancelled in 2020.
The Kahana Group is planning three Pesach programs in Cyprus and Greece. Mr. Kahana said they are offering a full refund for cancellations for any reason up to one week before Pesach: “This year, we are dealing with our suppliers and building our programs differently in order to protect our investment.”
Yisroel Shainfeld of Shainfeld Tours is planning two Pesach programs – one in Greece and one in Dubai. “We specifically chose large hotels to allow maximum space so families can social distance.” Shainfeld Tours gave full refunds to guests for their programs last year. This year, they are offering full refund of the deposit (500 Euro per family) for cancellations for any reason up to two weeks before Pesach. If guests cancel because someone has corona then they get full refund at any time.
Lenny Davidman has been running Pesach programs in Israel for the past 28 years, the last 20 years at the Dead Sea. Davidman is working closely with the Crowne Plaza at the Dead Sea “to try to foresee all the customers’ concerns about corona and to adapt the program to address those concerns.” He is planning to have more minyanim and dining areas to allow for social distancing. Davidman will be collecting a small registration fee per room with 50% of the fee paid by the end of January and the balance paid upon arrival at the hotel. He will give full refunds if the hotel is shut down by the government due to the coronavirus.
Most programs will probably be offering full refunds in the event of cancellation due to COVID outbreaks or restrictions on travel. Programs are still in the initial planning stages and we will keep you posted as information becomes available.
Passover 2021 in the UAE
With the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, kosher tour operators have been busy organizing tours and Passover programs for 2021. There is always interest in new and exotic locations for kosher vacationers and this will be the first time that Passover programs will be operating in the UAE. Program operators are already booking hotels and organizing Passover programs in the UAE for the upcoming Pesach. There are many beautiful beaches and tourist sites, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Pesach is an ideal time to take a vacation to the UAE, before the heat of the summer months.
Rabbi Duchman, the Chabad emissary to the UAE, told TJT, “I am very excited about the Kosher travel market to the UAE and am really looking forward to seeing the market develop and expand.”
There are still four months until Pesach 2021 but if the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that plans can change at any time. We have seen countries open up, only to go into lockdown a few months later. The numbers of infected fluctuate on a daily basis and local rules and regulations are constantly changing. We see that program operators are putting in every effort to organize amazing programs around the world. People are ready to travel and would love to go away for the winter holidays and Passover vacation. Many companies are working on a COVID-19 vaccine, some in late stage trials. A vaccine becoming available in the next few months could be a game changer. We remain cautiously optimistic.