Monday, August 14, 2006


Count on the French: Very few summer vacation cancellations
By Irit Rosenblum
"It all boils down to love. Our drive is our unremitting love for this country and that's the reason for our frequent visits," said Joe Zrihan, vice president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewry, explaining the community's support for Israel. Ten days after the start of the fighting in the north some 95 leaders from the French Jewish community came to Israel in a hastily organized solidarity visit. Joel Margi, the head of the Paris Jewish community and Zvi Amar, the head of the Marseille community, told Minister of Tourism Issac Herzog that their goal was to dissuade people from canceling their trips to Israel and "to persuade those who hadn't thought of coming to visit."
Indeed from August 6-20, French Jews accounted for 50 percent of hotel occupancy in Tel Aviv and Herzliya. According to Eli Ziv, the head of the greater Tel Aviv region for the Israel Hotel Association, last summer some 25,000 French Jews visited those two cities. It is still too early to calculate their numbers as some French tourists do arrive after the organized French vacation period earlier in August, adds Ziv. But he estimates that the final number will be in the 15,000-17,000 range - a drop of some 32-40 percent compared to last year. "That is an outstanding figure given current circumstances," he comments. Some of the cancelations have come from Christian tourists and businessmen who tend to come to Israel at the end of August or the beginning of September. The general manager of the Incoming Tourist Association, Ami Etgar, puts the decline in the number of French tourists staying at hotels in Israel this summer at around 40 percent. However, the overall drop here in the number of these tourists - who totaled some 40,000 in August 2005 - could be smaller as many of them rent apartments which they stay in during the summer months. Silvie Bensaid, a French journalist who writes for a Jewish magazine, says: "Many people I know canceled in favor of the French Riviera, Spain and even the United States. Bensaid says that many of the cancelations came from people who had planned to come in August and had thought that the war would be over in a month or two. She herself didn't hesitate to come to Israel, but feels the atmosphere in Tel Aviv has changed a little. "The restaurants are full, but there are less people on the promenade," she says. The Parienta family from Paris, on the other hand, doesn't feel any difference. Simon, his wife Linda, their four children and their neighbor Karine came to Israel to attend a few weddings in the Dan region and are staying at the Tel Aviv Hilton. Simon says that he even allows his 13-year-old son to walk around Tel Aviv on his own at night, something he would never dream of doing in Paris. "There is a little tension in the air, but the streets are full of people," he says. Jessica and Nathaniel Marciano, a twenty-something couple from Grenoble, are also in Israel for a wedding. Both of them feel safer here then anywhere else and neither sees coming to this country as an act of heroism: "We don't deserve special treatment. If there is a war in Israel, it's our war as well. It is not us who are the heroes, you are." Rafael Saroussi from Paris says out loud what all French Jews say in a whisper: Things aren't good for them in France and the situation is getting worse from month to month. At the Sorbonne, where he studies, there is an anti-Israeli demonstration every Tuesday. A spokesman for Hilton Israel, Moti Versas, says that in July, the Hilton Tel Aviv was worried about what the future would hold. But despite rates of $350 a night, occupancy at the hotel is 80 percent - down from 100 percent in 2005 - with French tourists accounting for half of the guests in the hotel's 600 rooms. Dan Hotels CEO Ami Hirschstein estimates the number of cancelations by French tourists at the chain at to be 10-20 percent. "The problem isn't with cancelations, but with new bookings," Hirschstein explains. "In normal times reservations are made at the end of July or the beginning of August. But they have come to a complete stop." Hirschstein estimates that the decline in August will hit 30 percent. In general, Israel's hoteliers are pleased with the French tourists. "Those that do come on vacation feel they are contributing to the country," says Naor Chen, general manager of The Seasons hotel in Netanya. "They are a lot more understanding and considerate than in regular times. It's a real pleasure." The Daniel Hotel in Herzliya also has been pleased with the French tourists who, along with residents of the north and other Israelis, have kept the hotel full this summer. Ronit Kopland, marketing director of the hotel management company HEI, which manages the Daniel and its adjacent boutique hotel, Shizen, estimates that French tourists will account for occupancy of over half the hotel's 200 rooms during the next two weeks. "It's true that 20 percent of the French tourists have canceled," says Kopland,"but that means that 80 percent of them have come."


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