A Perfect Time to Holiday, but Syria Jitters Put Chill on Sukkot Travel Plans

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The children are barely back in school and another holiday season is already upon us. For many families, whether they vacation abroad over Sukkot, which begins on the evening of September 18, depends on what happens in Washington.

"Everything now depends on whether or not the U.S. attacks Syria,"says Eyal Kashdan, CEO of the Flying Carpet travel agency. The proximity of the holidays to the summer, with the weather perfect and the fact that some people put off their vacation to Sukkot, means a very good holiday – on condition that the uncertainty dissipates.

Reservations began falling as Washington put on the heat at the end of August, Kashdan says, and many families are still waiting to see what happens.

Arkia Deputy CEO David Mahlev says his airline has added four flights to Rhodes on the intermediate days of Sukkot, with families typically travelling for five nights on average. That is up from three last year, because the holiday falls in the middle of September, which promises better weather than last year, when it came at the beginning of October. On the other hand, strong demand means that prices on packages are higher by several percent than last year.

As for vacationing in Israel, as of last week there were still plenty of hotel rooms available throughout the country and family suites weren't hard to find. But this situation isn't expected to last, according to industry sources.

"That's how it always is: It's only when we get close to Sukkot that Israelis start thinking about it and begin booking, especially in Eilat," says Yael Tamir, vice president at Gulliver Tourism. "Even more so this year, because the holidays are close to August and many people still haven't absorbed the fact that the they are already upon us. I'm sure that after Rosh Hashanah things will start to wake up."

Many Israelis will be spending the Sukkot holiday in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, it seems, with Eilat, the Dead Sea and the north of the country the choise of those who remain in Israel. But anyone who hasn't yet reserved should take note that there's no cost advantage in vacationing in Israel. TheMarker found that prices are similar here and abroad, ranging from NIS 7,000 to as much as NIS 11,000 for a four-night stay for a couple with two children.

A package deal in Eilat that includes airfare and four nights half-board at the Leonardo Plaza costs NIS 8,800. The price for an all-inclusive stay at the Isrotel Sport Club comes to NIS 9,600, half-board at the Princess Hotel costs NIS 11,500 and half-board at the Coral Beach Club is only slightly less at NIS 11,100.

Driving there can cut as much as NIS 2,100 from the price - NIS 7,300 for four nights at the Leonardo, NIS 9,400 at the Princess and NIS 8,000 at the Isrotel Lagoona on an all-inclusive basis. But the gas to get there and back could cost about NIS 420 for the 700 kilometer journey from Tel Aviv.

Burgas priciest

If vacationing in Eilat doesn't grab you and you prefer somewhere abroad, you can find similar prices for beachfront getaways in the Mediterranean basin. Four nights at a five-star hotel in Rhodes with two children will cost a family around NIS 10,000, including airfare. Staying at the nearby Electra Palace costs NIS 9,340 on an all-inclusive basis, while half-board accommodation at the Rodos Palace cost NIS 10,100. Similar prices can be found for five-star hotels on Crete as well.

Cheaper vacations can be had at Antalya in Turkey, where packages for four nights at a five-star hotel for a family of four, all-inclusive, start at about NIS 8,000. Hotel packages at the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas are steeper. Four nights for a family of four, all-inclusive, at the five-star Sol Nessebar Palace will come to NIS 10,100, whereas staying at the Helena Sands Hotel will cost NIS 12,300.

Hotel prices in Israel are always higher than usual during Sukkot, says Dana Lavie, marketing manager at the Daka 90 travel deal website, who estimates that before and after Sukkot rooms can be booked for 20% to 30% less. But even then, hotel prices in Israel have become so steep that two years ago the Tourism Minister appointed a committee for finding ways of reducing them. The committee took a year to submit its recommendations, which found costs were higher due to heightened security, kashrut, higher tax rates than hotels pay abroad and rules requiring fitness room instructors and swimming pool operators. Although the government approved the recommendations, nothing was done apart from ending the requirement that hotels employ fitness instructors.

Prices around the Mediterranean Sea also shoot up during the holidays. Operators subsidize package deals when demand is low like in the early spring, according to Tamir, and make up the difference during Sukkot. Another reason cited by Tamir for high holiday prices is that special flights are added for the vacation airlift abroad. The result is empty return flights that need to be paid for.

But waiting for prices to come down at the last minute, through sites such as Daka 90, is a risky proposition: It all depends on whether demand picks up as the holiday approaches.

TheMarker compared the prices offered on Sukkot vacation packages three months ago to prices quoted just before Rosh Hashanah. For Rhodes and Crete the prices went up while for Antalya they held steady. Four nights at half-board on Crete for a couple with two children at the Annabelle Village hotel, which cost NIS 10,400 to book in June, rose to NIS 11,800 as of last week. The same package at Crete's Stella Palace cost NIS 10,600 in June, rising to NIS 12,430 when we checked again last week.

The trend in Eilat is harder to determine. Booking a family suite for four nights at the Dan Panorama cost NIS 7,850, but all the rooms have since sold out. Prices at the Fattal chain's Magic Palace were unchanged while the cost of holidaying at the chain's Coral Beach Club rose by about NIS 1,000.

Prices at Eilat's Isrotel hotels dropped as the result of a Sukkot promotion offering the fourth night at a 50% discount. The sharpest decline was for the Princess Hotel, which cost NIS 11,180 to book in June.

The resort city of Eilat.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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