Twenty years ago, David Walles never imagined that he and his wife, Chana, would be running a highly regarded international kosher travel company operating luxury cruises, African safaris, multiple Pesach programs, Alpine ski trips and upscale land tours. Originally from Melbourne, Walles had a successful steel-manufacturing company and his wife was in real estate when they decided to run a Pesach program in a Queensland hotel. Heading north to what he described as the Miami Beach of Australia, the couple hosted five-star Pesach vacations for five consecutive years.
By all rights, a decision to move to Israel could have ended the family foray into the hospitality business, but a 2008 pilot trip had Walles meeting someone whose recently deceased father-in-law had established the successful Eddie’s Travel & Tourism Ltd. in 1979 to cater to the needs of the strictly kosher Jewish traveler.
“Eddie had just passed away and he had a sterling reputation,” Walles, a father of four, told The Jewish Link. “His son-in-law was looking for someone to buy the business and it became a no-brainer for us, letting us turn our passion into a full-time business, while at the same time fulfilling our aliyah dream.”
The Walleses added more Pesach hotels to their offerings each year and also began running kosher cruises and land tours. Focusing on providing fabulous kosher food at unique destinations without compromising on quality, Walles grew the business to keep up with the changing kosher travel market whose focus had shifted from holiday travel to year-round vacations. Multigenerational tours and experiences are another relatively new phenomenon in the world of kosher travel. In addition to hosting bar and bat mitzvahs, Walles has also welcomed many grandparents; some have brought entire families along, while others have come with just the grandkids.
“These days, many Jewish families are spread across the globe and don’t see each other very often,” explained Walles. “We have had families flying in and meeting in Venice for our Greek Isles tour, spending a whole week together enjoying family time, meals and tours.”
Also on the increase are private group tours for like-minded friends as well as community organizations and synagogue missions.
Having kept the company’s original name in tribute to its founder for 10 years, Walles recently elected for a rebranding in keeping with the changing times and travel trends. Now called Kosher Travelers, the company’s one-stop-shopping approach offers a true turnkey experience.
“Our team does all the work,” said Walles. “You just need to show up, relax and enjoy the experience.”
Walles’ vacations attract a diverse clientele of all levels of religious observance who have at least one thing in common—an interest in eating strictly kosher food no matter where in the world they may be. Because Kosher Travelers crisscrosses the globe, rabbinical supervision varies by destination: Pesach hotels in Israel are all glatt mehadrin under the auspices of the local rabbanut, while cruises are supervised by Rabbi Nechemia Rotenberg of Vienna. Most tours have a full-time mashgiach, with food prepared by a Kosher Travelers chef in a hotel or eaten at local kosher restaurants. One thing is certain: Kosher Travelers’ clients will never be served frozen airline meals.
Despite the diversity that can exist on some tours, Kosher Travelers goes out of its way to make everyone comfortable. Sifrei Torah are part of the tour in locations where there are no synagogues, while in others, itineraries are planned around local shul schedules. Summer trips in particular attract travelers from all across the religious spectrum.
“Our target audience is Modern Orthodox but we do attract a sprinkling of chareidim and many traditional Jews,” said Walles. “Everyone eats together in the same dining room and they all love it.”
That same something-for-everyone approach is evident in Kosher Travelers’ list of packages, which offers a dizzying number of destinations including Pesach at multiple Israeli hotels and Croatia and winter and summer cruises to Norway’s fjords, Alaska, Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mediterranean and Japan. Other exotic destinations include the Italian Alps, China, Peru, Galapagos Islands, Spain and Portugal, India, Morocco, Scottish whisky tours and French ski packages. The list goes on and on, the Walles personal touch evident throughout, with Kosher Travelers bringing another important component to the table to every vacation.
“You can Google ‘travel Jewish’ or ‘kosher to Morocco’ and find kosher restaurants and travel there on your own, but if you don’t speak a word of Arabic you will have a hard time,” noted Walles. “We take the whole element of stress out of traveling to exotic locations by taking care of every detail.”
Kosher Travelers’ prices vary by package, the company’s high volume of business allowing it to realize considerable savings that are passed along to clients without compromising an iota on quality or kashrut standards. With Pesach just around the corner, Walles hopes that Americans will consider coming to Israel, noting that airfare aside, Israeli programs are priced similarly to local packages but provide an opportunity to spend Pesach in the holiest place in the world.
More than just a business, Walles views Kosher Travelers as an opportunity to give back to others, choosing a worthy cause to be highlighted at his hotel programs. The business has recently raised considerable sums of money for organizations including Ezer Mizion, Leket, Innovation Africa and Tzohar, among others.
“While we do get satisfaction from arranging kosher travel, we get even more from being able to change the world and better people’s lives,” said Walles. “We are thrilled to be able to use our business as a platform for tikun olam.”
By Sandy Eller
For more information, visit Kosher Travelers online at www.KosherTravelers.com.