“After parties till 8 A.M.” and “crazy pub crawl.” Those are a few of the come-ons that tourism company Kishrey Teufa/Aviation Links offers Israeli teens keen to blow off some steam between high school and the army: cheap vacations in beach resorts such as Zakynthos in Greece, Burgas in Bulgaria and Spain’s Lloret de Mar.
Also popular is Ayia Napa, a resort on the southeastern coast of Cyprus, where 12 Israeli teens are being held on suspicion of gang-raping a 19-year-old British woman, reportedly after a night of alcohol-fueled partying.
Vacation packages are popular with young Israelis and they are marketed aggressively by a handful of companies, including Israir airlines' Israir Young unit and Flying Carpet’s Netofun arm.
Issta, another major tour packager, got out of the business two years ago amid recurrent complaints by parents about its “Crazy Summer” packages. Hotels in the Israeli resort of Eilat have for the most part stopped taking reservations from minors — the main reason travel companies now focus on foreign destinations.
“For years now Eilat hotels no longer allow kids under 18 to be guests without parental supervision. They don’t want the trouble,” said one travel agent, who asked not be named. Since then, he said, the problems have grown worse. “Once, when Israeli teens traveled to overseas hotels, the biggest trouble they got into was throwing a watermelon into the pool or making a lot of noise, but in the past few years it’s gotten more serious.”
Tour operators defend the packages, arguing that young people will drink and test limits no matter where they are.
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“Parents pretend they’re concerned, but they know what’s happening there. They expect me to act like an educator, but we’re a travel company. Soon they’ll be telling us not to sell tickets to Varna in Bulgaria because people lose money at the casino,” said one travel executive, who asked not to be named.
Simply giving them what they want
Another, who similarly spoke on condition of anonymity, said the packagers were simply giving the youth travel market what it wants.
“A person goes abroad. Someone offers him entry to parties or other attractions – he’s being forced? Or they sell him a ticket to a pool party – they’re pushing the product on him? What is this, summer camp?” he said.
“These are young people traveling with friends for vacation. Yes, they drink alcohol and they certainly have sex. What a shock. They don’t want an organized tour to Italy? They’re on vacation to have fun, like kids everywhere in the world. There are companies like ours all over the world. Why is it that what’s good for them isn’t good for Israeli kids?”
Some parents agree, like Revital Grossman from Tiberias, whose daughter is vacationing with 18 friends in Lloret de Mar.
“They’re simply following a worldwide trend, just as teens do for summer vacation. They saw others doing it and they want to do the same. If parents don’t want their children to travel, they should veto it,” she said, adding she is confident her daughter isn’t drinking or smoking. “She knows exactly what she can and can’t do.”
Others are less sanguine. Smadar Shoshani refused to let her 17-year-old son travel with friends. “The travel companies just want to make money and they go after easy prey, teenagers. Their representatives get ahold of the kids, sells them bracelets [admitting them to organized parties] for a lot of money. They drink a lot and get drunk.”
'The greed factor'
The tour packagers market their offerings aggressively, not just relying on passive advertising but by recruiting teen “influencers” who pitch vacation deals to their friends. In return, the influencers receive a small commission and other benefits, including free trips.
The packages are cheap, as little as $350 for four nights including ground transfers. The costs are kept low by relying on two-star hotels and squeezing three to five guests into a room.
Another cost-cutter: Breakfast is not included, which makes sense since few of the guests will be up early enough to take advantage of it.
The packages don’t include parties or pub crawls, which are only offered after the travelers land at the airport. There they are greeted by a representative from their hotel, who puts them on their free hotel shuttle and is there to help in the event of an emergency.
However, the representatives themselves are often not much older than their charges and they have a second job — selling the bracelets that get hotel guests into parties sold in packages and other attractions. All the extras can easily add up to far more than the vacation package itself, on average about 500 euros ($561).
It’s a very profitable business and there is little to deter the representatives from marketing their offerings aggressively.
“They stick close to their guests. I know that these bracelet sales have a 90 percent success rate, because kids do whatever everyone else is doing,” said one travel agent, who was speaking on condition of anonymity. “The profit for the company representative is 60 percent to 70 percent. Their first job is to protect the kids, but there’s the greed factor, too.”
One woman from Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, who asked to be identified only as Liat, said her son, a rising high school senior was one of those talked into buying a party package while vacationing with friends. Liat said she gave her son 700 euros in spending money and he burned through 500 euros the first night, buying a package of parties.
“The representative was pushing for packages, It’s a crazy amount of money,” she said.
“Before he left, my son told me he didn’t plan to buy a party package, but somehow they pressured him and he paid. Suddenly, he thought it was worth it. They brainwashed him.”