Suddenly This Summer

Irit Rosenblum
Lior Dattel
Zohar Blumenkrantz and Rina Rozenberg
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Irit Rosenblum
Lior Dattel
Zohar Blumenkrantz and Rina Rozenberg

No, the Education Ministry is not going to revisit its decision to shorten the school summer vacation, despite the howls of protest from parents - and the tourism industry. No, it won't put implementation of its decision off by a year, even though many families have vacations planned for the end of August.

Earlier this week the Education Ministry announced that the annual school summer vacation will be shortened by five days, effective this year. The school year will start on August 26 instead of September 1. Students and teachers will get the days back during the year: Three extra days off have been added between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and the Passover vacation gains a day, as does the Hanukkah vacation.

Shirley, a mother living in Tel Aviv, has a vacation planned for late August and has no intention of letting the Education Ministry ruin it. But she's angry. "My girls will suffer because they'll be getting back to Israel after the first day of school and they'll miss the excitement," she says. "I feel it's very peculiar that they're telling parents one month before the summer break begins."

Over in the tourism industry, hotels report no significant cancellations for the last week of August. That's the upside. On the downside, the last week of August is characterized by last-minute reservations. Among bed-and-breakfast venues (zimmerim ), the last week of August is fully booked, and they are worried about a loss of income because of the decree.

Noaz Bar Nir, director-general of the Tourism Ministry, supports the Education Ministry's decision to shorten the summer vacation, calling it an important move of "economic and public significance." But he also says the ministry would have done well to consider the implications in advance; for instance, on the tourism industry, and to have consulted more widely with industry figures.

Yogev Sarid, head of the tourism and business development division of the Moshavim Movement, grimly projects that 30% to 40% of the bookings for bed-and-breakfasts in the last week of August will be canceled. "The zimmerim are fully booked and charged a fee up front," Sarid says. Now a lot of people's plans are ruined, and zimmerim that had rejected bookings on the grounds they had no room could be left empty - and have to give back the pre-payments to boot, he says.

Eli Kedem, marketing manager of the Maagan Eden holiday resort on the shores of the Kinneret, points out that the Education Ministry's announcement shortens a summer tourism season that had been short to begin with because of Tu B'Av (the 15th of Av, the Jewish holiday celebrating love ). This year Tu B'Av falls on August 9. In any case, Kedem now expects occupancy of around 85% instead of 90%, and that's a poor showing for August.

The fact that people haven't yet canceled in droves doesn't mean they won't. Tourism companies report an inundation of phone calls the day after the Education Ministry's decision was announced. Callers were asking mainly about whether they could change dates, or if they would be forced to pay a fee for cancelling bookings.

Tens of thousands of Israeli families booked vacations for that last week of August, and now they're in a state of perplexity, says Uri Eytan, chief executive of the Gulliver tourism company. "The trend in the market today is to book well in advance, to get a better price."

Diesenhaus marketing manager Gilad Brovinsky reports a lot of people changing vacation dates, but not many cancellations. "The number of incoming calls was up 50% on Wednesday," he said - most people were looking into their options.

And everybody wanted to know what a change would cost them, and if they canceled, whether they would be charged a fine.

Under the Consumer Protection Law, customers who bought a vacation during the last two weeks pay a reduced cancellation fee - NIS 100 or 5% of the transaction value, whichever is lower.

But it's another story for customers who booked more than two weeks in advance. According to Gulliner's Uri Eytan, canceling flight tickets that have been finalized involves a fixed cancellation fee. Regarding tour packages with charter flights, each supplier has its own rules for cancellation fees.

"Once people realize the cost of changes or canceling, they tend not to," he says. "Airlines typically charge $150 to $200 for changing a ticket, and chances are the client will have to add another $100 or so on top of that because cheap tickets on the new date have been sold out. Then they realize it doesn't pay for them to make changes or cancel."

It's easier to wriggle out of a cancellation fee for a local vacation resort, and easier to move to a week earlier - but because demand for that week will suddenly rise, prices will too, Eytan warns.

The bottom line is that the changes do nobody good: not the supplier who has to adjust at short notice, or the customer, who has to pay more.

Shabtai Shay, general manager of the Eilat Hotels Association, says people have not been canceling - but they are trying to change dates.

Also, the last week of August in Eilat features the Jazz Festival and the Temaniada festival of Middle Eastern music. "Apparently their audiences aren't affected by changes to the school summer vacation," Shay says.