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Friday,  April 19, 2024 10:36 AM 

Tour ops, cruise lines respond to Israel-Hamas war, suspend itineraries

Tour ops, cruise lines respond to Israel-Hamas war, suspend itineraries
Jerusalem, Israel. (G Adventures)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

A bloody incursion of southern and central Israel by Hamas militants on Saturday morning (Oct. 7) – rocket attacks that left hundreds of Israelis dead, and even more wounded – has resulted in the “deadliest offensive” that Israel has experienced in 50 years, analysts say.

Israel blasted the Gaza Strip with airstrikes Monday (Oct. 9) in response to the surprise weekend attack by the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, which are listed as terrorist entities by Public Safety Canada.

Over the past three days, more than 1,600 people have been killed, with more than 900 people dead in Israel and at least 770 in Gaza, according to officials, with thousands more injured.

On Sunday (Oct. 8), the Government of Canada updated its travel page, changing the risk level for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip to “avoid non-essential travel” due to the unpredictable security situation and suspension of major international airline service to Israel.

READ MORE: Air Canada temporarily cancels Tel Aviv flights after attack on Israel; Ottawa updates travel advisory

Within the realm of travel and tourism, the sudden (and sad) turn of events throws a last-minute wrench in the plans of tourists who were planning on visiting The Holy Land this month and beyond.

PAX contacted a number of tour operators and cruise lines yesterday to get statements on how the Israel-Hamas war will impact future itineraries in Israel and its surrounding regions.

Intrepid Travel

Intrepid Travel has extended the cancellations of tour departures in Israel and the Palestinian Territories up until and including Oct. 31, 2023, and is communicating this decision to all affected customers.

The company says it already cancelled trips in those areas up to and including Oct. 16, 2023, and that it has extended this for the remainder of the month.

Intrepid had a "small number" of travellers in Israel when violence broke out on Saturday, the company told PAX.

"All travellers and tour leaders were safely accounted for. The majority of travellers left Israel over the weekend, with the remainder set to depart today," the tour operator said in a statement.

Zina Bencheikh, managing director EMEA for Intrepid, added: “Our thoughts are with the people of Israel and the Palestinian Territories at this awful time, and we send our condolences to all those who have lost loved ones."

While trips in Israel and the Palestinian Territories are paused, Intrepid says its tour departures in neighbouring Egypt and Jordan will continue as scheduled as both countries remain open for tourism.

The latest information can be found on Intrepid’s Travel Alerts page.

Globus Family of Brands

Future Globus and Cosmos tours in Israel have also been cancelled through Nov. 15, the Globus Family of Brands has confirmed. 

"We are communicating these cancellations directly with affected guests and advisors, providing them a plethora of options, this week," said Steve Born, chief marketing officer for the Globus family of brands, in a statement.

"Our hearts go out to the people of Israel. Upon receiving the news of the attack on Gaza, for the safety and security of all Globus and Cosmos guests in Israel, we put together an exit strategy and provided assistance in arranging flights home," Born said.

"...In the coming days, we will continue to monitor the situation to determine future needs and/or cancellations."

G Adventures

Canadian operator G Adventures confirmed that it has no tours currently operating in Israel, and travellers on the ground who were due to join an upcoming trip are in the process of being contacted “to ensure they are safe and accounted for.”

“Given the rapidly escalating situation and in the interest of the safety and security of our travellers, G Adventures has cancelled six tours in Israel departing up to Friday, October 15, 2023,” the company wrote in a statement to PAX.

These are G’s Israel & Jordan: Ancient Sites & Epic Nights departing on Oct. 8, the Israel Explorer departing on October 8, 13 and 15, and Israel and Beyond departing on October 10 and 15.

“We are reaching out to impacted travellers to update them on the situation and are advising those who are in Israel ahead of their trip to adhere to instructions from local authorities, register their presence with their embassy or consulate and begin making arrangements to leave the country as soon as possible,” the company said.

“Our thoughts are with those affected by the devastating conflict.”

In North America, G customers can call toll free at 1-888-800-4100 for more information.

Celestyal Cruises

Israel, being on the Mediterranean Sea, is also a port of call for many cruise lines, with Port Haifa being the country’s main and largest seaport.

Therefore, cruise companies have also altered future itineraries to the destination.

In a statement, Celestyal Cruises announced that it will temporarily suspend calling to Israel until the end of November.

The situation will be monitored for any itineraries departing after this date, the company said.  

“Firstly, as a business, our thoughts are with those impacted by the events in Israel,” wrote CEO of Celestyal, Chris Theophilides, in a statement. “We wish for the safety of all the souls affected and a rapid return of peace to the country. We are in close coordination with the authorities, and the safety, security, and comfort of our guests remains our upmost priority.” 

“On the advice of our internal teams and the relevant authorities we have decided to temporarily remove Israel from our Three Continents itinerary until the end of November this year. Our teams will be contacting any affected customers to advise them of the updates to their itineraries and the additional provisions that have been made to ensure their continued enjoyment.”

Celestyal said it will update guests and partners about the evolution of the situation and will contact all affected customers and agents directly in the coming days.

The change in itinerary is valid for the following cruises:

The seven-night Three Continents cruise with departures on Oct. 21 and 28 and Nov. 4, 11, 18, and 25, 2023.

Royal Caribbean Group

The Royal Caribbean Group, which includes Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises, is also adjusting its Israel-based voyages, the company has confirmed. 

“Our global security team is closely watching the evolving situation in Israel,” the company’s public relations department told PAX in a statement yesterday.

“For the safety and security of our guests, we're adjusting several itineraries in the area. Impacted guests are being notified directly.”

In a statement, Celebrity Cruises said its expert teams are working diligently with officials across the globe to keep the safety and security of our guests and crew as our top priority. 

"As we do so, our thoughts are with everyone in the region affected by these terrible events," the cruise line said. "This in mind, we are reaching out to our guests to inform them of modifications made to their upcoming vacation aboard Celebrity Apex on October 16, 2023. We have crafted an adjusted itinerary, replacing port calls in Jerusalem (Ashdod), Israel, with a beautiful selection of stops in Greece." 

What Israel's Minister of Tourism is saying

Haim Katz, Israel's Minister of Tourism, sent a letter to travel partners early Monday morning to address the war, acknowledging that there is no knowing how long the security situation would remain uncertain.

“The brutal attacks have caught incoming tourism just as it was reaching its peak and I might add to which we were eagerly anticipating,” Katz wrote.

Most airlines have cancelled flights to Israel – including Air Canada, which has activated a goodwill policy that allows impacted customers to make changes to their itinerary, including the option of receiving a full refund.

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism noted that it is collaborating with the authorities on assisting travellers who are trying to depart Israel.

This comes amid reports of Canadian travellers in Israel being stuck in the crossfire, facing challenges getting home as communication with the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv over the weekend was reportedly limited due to the embassy keeping Thanksgiving long weekend hours.

Minister Katz said the safety of tourists "is our top priority and we work to ensure their safety in every way."

"We hope that we can get back to 'business as usual' as soon as possible," Katz wrote. "Drawing from past experiences, we have learned that once normalcy is restored, the tourism industry and the demand for visiting our country will rebound with passion and excitement."

“Nothing guaranteed in the world of travel”

As for travel advisors who had clients booked for Israel, the work now begins as requests for refunds and alternate travel dates pile up.  

Travel advisor Judith Coates, founder of Wired for Travel, had a group booked for Israel this January, but in light of recent events, she’s made the decision to postpone that trip by an entire year.

It’s an acceptable option for some. However, some customers in the group are requesting their money back, Coates shared.

Coates said she agrees with analysts who are predicting that, because of the complication of the hostage situation in Israel, the situation will “ripple into many countries” – Canada included – and “will not be resolved easily.”

The conflict also shows how travel can sometimes be completely unpredictable.

“This feels like pandemic restrictions/cancellations all over again,” Coates told PAX. "One thing I know for certain is that there is nothing guaranteed in the world of travel.”

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