Herzog Sets Up 'Tourism HQ' to Handle War Issues

Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog has created a joint team to handle issues related to the new security situation in the country, together with leaders in the tourism industry.

In addition to Tourism Ministry officials, the new grouping includes representatives from the hotel and lodging sectors, domestic and foreign aviation industries, travel agencies, incoming tourism organizers, tour guides and transportation companies.

It will collect information from across the sector and deal with a range of issues affecting domestic and incoming tourism for the short and long terms.

The decision to create the new forum was made in an emergency meeting convened by Herzog with representatives from his ministry and from the industry.

According to figures presented by participants at the meeting, Israelis are cancelling trips to the north but not to other parts of the country.

Occupancy at the Dead Sea area and the south is very high.

So far there have not been significant cancellations by foreign tourism.

Flight schedules have not been affected, and the tourists who came before major hostilities began last week have changed their itineraries but not their overall plans.

Industry leaders noted that the "hardcore" tourism to Israel - Jews and Christian groups and pilgrims - are expected to continue to come, but plans should be made for large-scale cancellations of trips if the fighting continues for an extended period.

The new president of the Israel Hotel Association, Eli Gonen, stressed that immediate arrangements should be made to compensate businesses for direct or indirect losses resulting from the war.

The CEO of El Al, Haim Romano, announced that the carrier will not cancel flights.

Moni Bar, the Israeli representative of the largest tourism corporation in Europe, TUI, said the company had no intention of canceling flights to Israel at this stage. Representatives of foreign airlines echoed their declarations.

Among the many issues discussed was providing more flexibility with regard to cancellation fees and early deposits for hotels and flights.

Oni Amiel, CEO of Amiel Tours, asked the airline representatives to show understanding towards passengers in this area.

In summing up the meeting, Tourism Minister Director General Nahum Itzkovitz emphasized that the ministry was working around the clock to keep abreast of the situation.

No quick return home for most tourists

Not every foreign tourist who wants to push up their return home due to the fighting in the north will be able to do so, despite the announcements from the airlines that they will not charge travelers a penalty for cancelling a flight or changing the return date.

TheMarker learned yesterday about a case in which a tourist who wanted to return to her Los Angeles home earlier than she had originally planned to was stopped from doing so, when El Al claimed it had no available seats for this week.

Representatives of foreign airlines will not know the true picture of cancellations from incoming tourists until later today, due to the closure of travel offices over the weekend in the United States.