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May 06, 1988 - Image 18

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-06

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Israel Tourism Down,
Says El Al President

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FRIDAY, MAY 6, 1988

Washington Correspondent



With most economic
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© 1987 Volvo North American Corporation

s unrest in Israel's
administered territo-
ries continues, that
country's vital tourist in-
dustry is slumping, according
to Rafi Harley, the president
of El Al Airlines. And
American Jews, according to
the former second-in-
command of the Israeli Air
Force, have been more likely
to cancel their Israel travel
plans than their Christian
Harley is currently in the
middle of a U.S. tour designed
to shore up the sagging
tourism statistics.
"There are really three pur-
poses to this visit," said
Harley, whose whirlwind tour
included stops in New York,
Washington, Miami, Phila-
delphia and Chicago. "The
first is routine — to check in
with our offices here after an
absence of three years.
Secondly, we want to tell the
story that El Al is healthier
now than it's ever been; in
1987 profits will be 15 percent
higher than in 1986:'
But the most important
reason, he says, is the slump
in tourism — a decline that
the Jerusalem government is
reluctant to acknowledge.
"Unfortunately, we face a
reduction at the rate of be-
tween • 15 and 30 percent for
the period starting April 1,"
he says. "The government
does not see this."
The discrepancy, he says, is
due to the different ways El
Al and the government evalu-
ate tourism. "The tourism
minister is looking at the first
quarter statistics for this year
— which were surprisingly
good. So the minister of
tourism is extremely happy.
But El Al's statistics are
based on projections — which
are based on what we have on
our reservation system. The
minister has no reservation
Part of Harlev's purpose in
visiting the United States is
to help reverse this trend.
"We try to follow a couple of
courses of action," he said.
"One is to convince Ameri-
cans that there's nothing to
be afraid of. One way we're do-
ing this is by bringing facts
about Israel — about groups
from all over the world who
have come, and their ex-
He describes a recent en-
counter with a group of Ger-
man tourists. "They toured
all over the country. Of


course, they didn't go into the
Gaza refugee camps; people
visit New York, but they don't
go to Harlem. I asked for
their impressions. They told
me this: 'Thirty of us cancel-
ed before we came. We're go-
ing to go back and tell them
they were fools. We didn't see
a single stone except what
was on the ground: "
Another part of Harlev's
strategy is to deal with wor-
ried parents of children
scheduled to attend camp this
summer in Israel. "So we sent
30 parents from New York
who were concerned. They
went to Israel, came back and
sent letters to the thousands
of others, saying they had a
wonderful time, and didn't
face any problems:'

A good part of Harlev's ap-
peal is directed at American
Jews. "What we are saying to
the Jewish public here is,
friends, this is the time to
come. If not now, when? What
is being a Jew all about, if not
standing up and helping your
He expresses puzzlement
about the tendency of Jewish
tourists to cancel their trips
to Israel more readily than
Christians. "Part of it is the
leaders of group trips," he
says. "We found that cancel-
lations depend on the single
mind of the leader, and it hap-
pens that the Christian mini-
sters who lead trips to Israel
are just more determined to
go. Maybe they're less afraid;
it looks as if the Jewish peo-
ple are somewhat more afraid
to come. Of course, the people
in our Jewish leadership don't
like to hear that:'
A final part of Harley's
strategy is to work with
travel agents and tour opera-
tors to make Israel travel
more attractive this year—
through higher concessions to
travel agents, reductions in
fares and special arrange-
ments for group expeditions.
Harley has been El Al's
president since 1983, and is
generally credited with pull-
ing the airline back from the
brink of bankruptcy. "Be-
tween 1980 and 1983 was our
worst period," he says. "El Al
underwent major labor unrest
during that period, including
a complete shutdown for four
months. At that point, we
were very close to bankrupt-
cy? ,
Through tough cost-cutting
and even tougher bargaining
with Israel's trade unions,
Harley created a leaner and
more efficient company.

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