Euro May Climb Up, but Israelis Ski Down

The euro has reached an all-time high against the shekel, but that has not kept Israelis from hitting European ski slopes in record numbers.

The euro has hit a record NIS 5.43 to the euro as the new European currency has strengthened against the dollar. Since the beginning of the year, the euro has gained 9 percent against the shekel, while the dollar has dropped 7 percent versus the shekel. Even so, the demand for pricey European ski vacations is still up 15 percent from last year.

In fact, the rise in the euro has only had a minor effect on the Israeli economy, as the euro accounts for only 22 percent of the currency basket, while the dollar represents 64 percent.

The weights of the currencies in the basket actually are important since it is "balanced" according to the real ratios between currencies as represented in Israel's trade on world markets. In spite of the euro's climb, it has only had a small effect on the current price index and the present deflation.

On the other hand, the dollar has dropped to just above its level in October 1998, when the Russian financial crisis pushed the exchange to NIS 4.30 to the dollar.

But the euro's rise has not affected the holiday ski business. Israelis are "complaining and paying" say travel agents about the serious skiers, who pay on average 1,150-1,500 euros for a ski package.

Ski vacation sales are up 15 percent from last year, when the situation was particularly poor due to pre-Iraq war worries. In general, 60 percent of ski vacations are booked by the end of December, and cover vacations for a period extending through late March.

It seems that the expensive vacations have been hurt the least by the euro's rise. Committed skiers are willing to pay the price, but the cheaper packages for beginners have actually shown a reduced demand. On top of the rise of the euro, ground services for the skiers have also increased in price, making the vacations about 15 percent more expensive than last winter.