Israel Raids Issta Travel Agency as Part of Poland School Trip Probe

Antitrust and police officials suspect firm of price-fixing and other offenses, related to high-school trips to Holocaust and other sites.

A group of Israeli students visit the former Nazi death camp Treblinka, on April 14, 2008.
Alik Keplicz/AP

Israel's Antitrust Authority raided the offices of the Issta travel agency Thursday and confiscated documents as part of its investigation of suspected antitrust offenses involving organized school trips to Poland.

About six months ago the IAA revealed that, together with the police, it was looking into charges that key figures involved in organizing and marketing high-schoolers' trips to Holocaust and other sites in Poland had worked together to prevent competition and fixed the prices of these excursions.

The individuals and agencies in question, suspected of fraud and anti-trust law offenses, include Issta Academy Travel, Y. Hillel, Gesher Laolam, Ayala Travel, Tevel Travel and Diesenhaus.

In January, following a joint undercover investigation by the IAA and the police, nine suspects were detained and questioned on suspicion of involvement in the affair. Suspects’ homes and offices were subsequently also searched and assets and bank accounts were seized.

The authorities suspect that figures at the various travel agencies coordinated prices after they won Education Ministry tenders as franchisees, and allegedly divided up the market so schools would choose their services, without allowing for any real competition in pricing.

According to a statement from the IAA from early this year, the individuals involved are suspected specifically of a breach of the antitrust law, aggravated fraud and money-laundering offenses. Some of the figures are also suspected of bribery.

Travel packages for youth groups to Poland is a niche market in tourism through which some 400 groups, a total of about 28,000 students, travel to Poland every year. Between five and nine agencies win the tender every year to operate these trips. Until 2016, the cost of the package per student was between 5,300 shekels to 6,000 shekels ($1,378-$1,560) for a trip lasting seven to eight days.

Issta, which is traded on the stock market at a value of 730 million shekels, announced in recent days that would be opening a boutique hotel in Tel Aviv with an investment of 60 million shekels.