The specific promotions described in this article have now passed, but it remains online so that the resources named will be of future use to travelers.
There seems to be a buzz in the air lately about Israel. From the flashy "Who Knew" television advertising campaign to airlines opening up new direct routes to fly there, it seems that Israeli tourism is going through a much needed resurgence. Israel's tourism sector suffered a big blow with years of Intifada and being on several countries' travel warning lists. Not that either of those situations has really changed. Perhaps the difference is that people now recognize and acknowledge the fact that there may well be destabilizing problems in Israel for many years to come, so if they want to visit, now is as good a time as any.
Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics and Ministry of Tourism is boasting new 2006 statistics that show a 24 percent increase in tourists in the first two months of this year over the same period last year -- and that is in low season. Their goal is to realize three million tourists to the country this year and they are helping to do so by allowing new airlines into Israeli airspace and encouraging visitors to discover what the new Israel is all about.
Israel is certainly a country of contrasts and may surprise even the most experienced traveler with its diversity. Historically it is the cradle of three of the world's major religions, conquered and occupied by so many great civilizations and empires over its almost six thousand years of continuous habitation, that their subtle influences and relics are visible throughout the country. It boasts a beautiful Mediterranean coastline with white sand beaches, rocky coves and secluded watering holes yet its coastline is only 170 miles long from top to bottom and to give you an idea of scale, the entire country is smaller in size than the state of New Jersey.
Personally, I have two favorite areas in Israel -- both a little bit off the traditional tourist trail but well known and loved by Israelis. Akko (Acre) is an ancient port town just north of Haifa and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a small medieval walled city with a history that dates back thousands of years and was originally built as a Phoenician port. It became an important maritime center during the Crusades and today it retains much of its original charm and architectural majesty. Its fishing boats, markets, small shops, winding alleys and cobblestone streets make it an authentic slice of ancient Israel. The other site is Rosh Hanikrah (sometimes spelled "Haniqra"). It is located in the most north-western part of the country, on the coast, a stone's throw from the Lebanon border (actually technically on the border). Here sandstone cliffs and emerald green waters have formed incredible grottoes with magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. It is rugged and raw with little tourism infrastructure and a simple cable car system to give visitors access to the different cave areas. If you can get a little off the beaten track, both these places are well worth a visit.
As of last week (March 28), Delta Airlines (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) began operating non-stop flights between Atlanta and Tel Aviv and by early next year it plans to resume flying between New York and Tel Aviv, a service it discontinued after the September 11 attacks in 2001.Through Atlanta, Delta hopes to tap into the large Jewish community there as well as attract those wishing to visit the Holy Land from throughout the Bible Belt and Latin America, especially Mexico. Last week also saw El Al (tel. 800/223-6700; www.elal.com), introducing the only nonstop flight service from Miami to Tel Aviv. El Al continues to offer the most nonstop flights from New York to Tel Aviv, and is the only airline with direct service from Los Angeles and Chicago. On the down side though, El Al has just raised its airfares on all sectors by 3 percent citing rising fuel costs, meaning that the average price of a US to Israel one-way flight will rise by $38 and this is the second 3 percent increase in less than six months.
Israel To Go (www.israeltogo.com) has the following airfare special from Israir Airlines (click 'Web Specials'). One-way fares from New York from now until April 30 and October 1 to 17, 2006 are priced at $449 plus taxes, then from May 1 to 10, May 22 to June 16, August 18 to September 30 and October 18 to 31 is $349 and from May 11 to 21 and June 17 to August 17, 2006, the fare is $399. They also have an El Al 21-day maximum stay Spring Special valid for travel from now until June 15, 2006 from $659 plus tax from New York or Newark. Minimum stay is six-days and this deal is available until April 6, 2006. From Chicago or Atlanta the price is $739, $779 from Miami and $839 Los Angeles.
Friendly Planet (tel. 800/555-5765; www.friendlyplanet.com) offers a budget priced Israel package with additional discounts of $100 per person if you book by May 26, 2006. Its "Jerusalem Express" package includes round-trip airfare from New York or Boston with Swiss Airlines, five nights superior first class hotel accommodation in Jerusalem at the Dan Panorama Hotel or the Jerusalem Pearl Hotel, Israeli buffet breakfast daily, arrival and departure transfers and a professional English-speaking tour guide. The price for a May 6, September 16 or October 21, 2006 departure is $1,299 per person plus taxes based on dual occupancy and $300 more for June 10, July 15 and August 12, 2006 departures. Add $100 from Washington, D.C., $150 from Chicago or Miami and $320 from Los Angeles. Add a "Cairo Flash Pre-Tour Extension" to your trip for $575 per person double occupancy and enjoy three days and nights in Cairo staying at the Sheraton Cairo Hotel with tours to the pyramids of Giza, the old city of Cairo and the Egyptian museum. It also includes airfare from Cairo to Jerusalem and airport transfers. The cost of an Egyptian visa ($28) is additional.
Israel Tour Connection (tel. 800/247-7235; www.israeltour.com) also has a variety of themed tours from Jewish Heritage to Christian pilgrimages. Their "Footsteps of Our Lord" is a seven day tour of sacred Christian sites and holy locations. Priced at $1,325 land only per person, it includes airport transfers, breakfast and dinner daily, five nights' hotel accommodation (one in Tel Aviv and four in Jerusalem -- both at Dan Panorama Hotels) and two nights at Kibbutz Ein Gev in Tiberius. The tour takes you to Jerusalem, Caesarea, Megiddo, Haifa, Acre, Beit Shan, the Golan Heights, Tiberias a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, Tabgha (the site of the miracle of fish and loaves), through the Judean Desert to Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), Masada, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. Children under 12 sharing a room with adults pay $730 and single supplement is additional $465. This tour departs weekly on a Saturday and these prices are valid for travel until March 31, 2007.
The US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov/travel) has up to date travel warnings and advisories on its website and it currently recommends that US citizens avoid any unnecessary travel to Gaza, the West Bank and other Palestinian areas of Israel (East Jerusalem). It also recommends that any American citizen who intends to travel to Israel, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip in spite travel warnings should carefully review the Consular Information Sheet for Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1064.html).