A new marketing deal with Salem Communications symbolizes an invigorated push for the Christian market.
Gil Travel makes Christian push but stays faithful to its roots
By Dennis Schaal
and bat mitzvahs; Jewish heritage tours to
Israel and Eastern Europe; and even group
trips to the Maccabiah Games, informally
known as the “Jewish Olympics,”
every four years.
Igal Hami was studying to be a textile engineer at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science in
1973 when the Yom Kippur War
changed the fabric of his life.
Israeli tourism officials, seeking to revive travel to the country
after the war, asked Hami and
other students to sell air travel
in exchange for some free flights,
and he began visiting synagogues Igal Hami
and churches to hawk tourism President, CEO
back to his native country. Gil Travel Tours
Christian travel booms
Today, 35 years later, Hami is
the president and CEO of Gil Travel Tours,
employing some 50 travel consultants and
But Gil Travel is putting a lot
of effort and dollars these days
into the Christian market, Hami
said. For example, he opened a
Jacksonville office dedicated to a
new Global Christian Travel division there early this year. And
this month Gil Travel hosted two
Holy Land Tours, with about
1,000 travelers from evangelical Benny
The 10-day air and land packages, starting at $2,295, included Sea of Galilee boat
rides, Jordan River baptisms and services
tour operators in its Philadelphia headquarters and offices in New York; Boca Raton and Jacksonville, Fla.; and Tel Aviv.
The agency and tour operator offers all
of the packages you’d expect of an Israel
specialist: honeymoons and weddings; bar
Gil Travel has offered tours with Benny
Hinn Ministries for several years. But a
new marketing deal with Salem Communications, the conservative Christian radio
broadcasting network, symbolizes an invigorated push for the Christian market. The
goal of the pilot program with a handful
of Salem’s nearly 100 stations is to send 40
people from each station on 10-day tours of
the Holy Land in 2009, Hami said.
this Dan Hotel property come with sought-after Old City views.
“I can see more future in the Christian
market,” Hami said, adding that the Jewish
market is a constant.
Gil Travel’s tour operator office in Tel
Aviv is integral to the company’s operations, according to Hami, although he conceded that tour companies in the U.S. can
offer successful Israel packages without
dedicated offices in Israel if they have good
relationships with land operators.
Regarding his views of the future, Hami
is excited about US Airways’ plan to initiate
nonstop Philadelphia-Tel Aviv service beginning in July, although El Al is Gil Travel’s
Philadelphia is a US Airways hub, Hami
noted, so travelers will have plenty of connecting flights.
“It will help my business big-time,” he
For more, call (800) 223-3855 or visit
Israel with a difference
Hami said he believed his
tours were different from those
of some of his competitors.
“Everyone’s trying to sell Israel,
but a lot of them are trying to
cut corners,” he said. “We deliver what we promise.”
For example, some operators
offer “deluxe” packages that include stays in the five-star King
David Jerusalem Hotel, but the
rooms may face a wall, Hami
said. In contrast, Gil Travel’s
deluxe packages with nights at The iconic Dome of the Rock, on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Continued from Page 46
Susan Weissberg, president and CEO of
Wyllys Professional Travel, a Coral Gables,
Fla., firm specializing in travel in the Middle East, spent many years living in Herzli-
ya, knows the area well and has watched it
evolve over time.
“I spent every single Saturday at the
beach,” she said. “Herzliya has always been
a lovely, luxurious area.”
Weissberg pointed to the Daniel and Accadia hotels as other quality accommoda-
tions options in the area.
A sign of better times
The construction of the Nobu Hotel
and Residences in Herzliya Marina is seen
by some as a symbol of Israel’s improving
economic and tourism fortunes.
“Even in the deep, dark doldrums of
Israel’s tourism disaster around the intifada and post-9/11 dynamics, you still had
a fairly strong religious tourism going into
Israel,” said James Berkeley, president of
Destinations and Adventures International, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based boutique
wholesaler specializing in Israel and the
Berkeley said he believed the opening
of luxury offerings such as Nobu heralded
a growing belief among investors in the
potential financial rewards offered by Is-
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The Nobu is seen as a sym-
bol of improving tourism
fortunes in Israel.
raeli tourism with both religious and mainstream tourists.
Weissberg concurred, noting that “2008
was a fabulous year for tourism in Israel, because it is celebrating its 60th anniversary.”
“Tourism is still looking strong,” she said.
“Ever since the intifada ended, we’re having
a boom in Israel tourism as well as [to] Jordan and Egypt. There are now direct flights
between Tel Aviv and Amman, Jordan, and
Tel Aviv and Cairo.”
Weissberg said she believed one reason
Israeli tourism is flourishing is that Americans feeling the pinch of a strong euro have
found the dollar remains strong in Israel.
In addition, the country’s newfound safety and stability also appears to be a contributing factor. “People returning from their
sightseeing trips feel very, very safe and are
spreading the word,” said Weissberg.
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