Israeli travel for vacation to US spikes in August

“People who have a foreign passport or visa to enter the US are voting with their feet, with more people flying than usual in August,” said Ziontours Jerusalem CEO Mark Feldman.

“People that would have otherwise gone to Italy or London are going to the United States,” Feldman said. “Planes to the States are much, much fuller than they usually are this summer. People do not want to risk Europe. And airline ticket prices are very cheap because of the fact that there are no tourists. It’s actually cheaper for a family of four to go to the United States for 10 days than to go to Greece, because ticket prices are so low,” he said.

That is a different reality than was expected two months ago, when Israeli hotels were filling up faster than usual because people didn’t want to deal with the inconveniences of flying during the pandemic. But the surge in demand means hotels are now completely booked for August, and prices for rooms that remain are sky-high.

Meanwhile, European countries are increasing travel restrictions again due to concerns about the fast-spreading Delta variant. The UK is requiring travelers from certain countries to self-quarantine for ten days regardless of their vaccination status, and there are fears that Israel could be added to that list soon. Other countries are closing their borders to visitors from certain “red” countries. And Israel has its own list of countries that citizens are barred from visiting without special permission, including Spain, South Africa, India, and others.

“Two months ago, Greece and Cyprus had delegations here, and their hotels were sending marketing teams here, because vacationing there is always cheaper than staying at Israeli hotels,” Feldman said. “But now, that has completely changed. It ended when we said that kids who weren’t vaccinated had to quarantine for 14 days, and even lowering that to seven days didn’t change that. It’s not worth going abroad for a five-day package when the kids have to quarantine for seven days afterward.”

That makes a trip to the US, where there are no mandatory quarantine requirements, the only viable vacation option for many, including those who had ruled out the idea of traveling just a few months earlier.

Israel has asked that people refrain from all unnecessary travel this summer to help keep the coronavirus variants out. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that last week as a request, not an order, that the airport should be closed completely to non-essential travel. Voices within the Health Ministry have already come out in favor of this initiative.

“Saying things like that is truly irresponsible,” Feldman said. “It’s causing real panic among people. There’s no reason to close the airport. There should be more consideration about enforcing the quarantine. If experts are saying that the test before the plane and the test when you land are still not sufficient, then require a third test like the UK started doing. But the government wants to say ‘we don’t trust that you’ll stay in quarantine for seven days, so we’d rather you cancel the trip outright.’ I find that insulting.”

In any case, statements like those are not discouraging people from taking their planned vacations. Jerusalem resident Avital Levy said she’s moving forward with her travel plans despite government warnings.

“It’s my third attempt to travel since the beginning of the year. I’ve had three tickets canceled. Two were due to COVID and one due to the rockets. So I said, ‘whatever happens, I’m not canceling this trip,’” she said.

Levy explained that she will be traveling to her home country of Lithuania, and then to Venice for a few days.

“European flights are just so cheap, and everything is so close and convenient. So I decided to really use this opportunity,” she said.

From a COVID standpoint, Levy stated: “I was observing situations regarding COVID of course. I know that both of the countries are low risk – Lithuania and Italy. They have low COVID cases. Of course, the Delta variant is growing but it’s really not dramatic.”

“I think it’s relatively safe. Of course, I’m keeping all the precautions. I’m vaccinated. I’m going to wear a mask. So I’m feeling quite confident.”

Shaun Landa is also continuing with his plans to visit Tennessee in August with his family of five. “We usually go every summer, but we haven’t been there in three years,” Landa said. “Two years ago we moved during August, and last year was COVID. We have had a baby since our last visit, and my parents haven’t seen her in person.”

Landa said the logistics of arranging the trip are more daunting to the family than the virus itself. “Tennessee is also having a spike in cases, just like here,” he said. “Our two-year-old will be required to wear a mask for the entire flight, and we’re not sure how that is going to go. But we plan to follow all of the rules, and if flights are canceled or there is a travel ban, that would be bad.”

Ultimately, Landa said he is confused by the government’s approach to the pandemic. “The government has said it is focused on maintaining routine, but now it is telling us not to fly,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

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