Wednesday, July 08, 2020

While running the internet’s largest leading Jewish and kosher travel website, TotallyJewishTravel.com (TJT), we have witnessed many changes in the industry. In that time, we have seen the birth of the internet, which transformed Jewish travel, the global financial crisis of 2008, from which the entire world took a huge hit and now we are seeing the unprecedented effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

For Passover 2020, TJT has carried advertising from over 130 Passover programs. Many tens of thousands of kosher travelers were planning on going to Passover programs in three weeks’ time.

The coronavirus outbreak has thrown those plans into chaos, with countries in lockdown, travel bans and gatherings of 10 or more people banned in Israel. These restrictions and people’s natural hesitancy to travel at this time have thrown the Passover program industry into chaos. During the last four weeks, we have seen many programs being cancelled due to coronavirus, leaving tens of thousands of people without plans for the upcoming Passover holiday.

The Passover program industry is made up of many companies, some large, some small, some who have been in business for over 40 years and some who are running their first program this year. Running a Passover program takes eight to nine months to plan and involves a huge investment in equipment, food, entertainment, staff, marketing and logistics. For example, shipping kosher for Passover food to a small Greek island for 400 people, along with kitchen equipment and crockery, is not a cheap task. In addition, Passover programs often have to pay the hotels in stages over several months, with the final large payment being made six to eight weeks before Pesach. While they know they will not get any refund for their time and for money spent purchasing equipment, paying workers, sales and advertising, many of the program operators are still struggling and negotiating with the hotels to get a refund for their own deposits.

The last thing Passover programs want to do is cancel. As the global situation changes from week to week and now day to day, some programs decided to cancel, some were forced to do so due to local restrictions, and some are continuing with their plans. This year, with the coronavirus outbreak, the program operators face a catastrophe, watching months of hard work destroyed by an unforeseeable and unprecedented problem. This is their own parnassah for their families. Those programs that have not cancelled face uncertainty with the restrictions changing on a daily basis, and bear in mind we still have more than three weeks until Pesach!

We have received many emails over the past two weeks and seen a lot of social media posts on various forums from disappointed and angry guests who have been told their programs have been cancelled and that the Passover program operators are either not offering a full refund or only a small, partial one. There is a general expectation that guests should receive all their money back. While some programs have the capacity to offer this, most do not. As much as we sympathize with the losses and disappointment of the guests, we have worked closely with many Passover program operators for many years and feel that the Passover program operators are not being judged fairly.

In our opinion, to criticize the Passover programs for not refunding each and every guest in full is completely unfair. Of course, we understand and feel the pain and disappointment of families who have paid substantial amounts of money for Passover programs that will not take place. Often, people have saved hard to afford the vacation of a lifetime, but nobody in the industry could have foreseen this scenario. Hopefully, what people pay for a vacation has been saved and budgeted and will not cause undue financial hardship to the family in the long term.

This needs to be considered against the very real possibility that many Passover programs are at very real risk of losing everything. In some cases, these are businesses that have been built over many, many years. For others in their first year, it can mean being saddled with debt of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. This can destroy the families who run Passover programs and have a devastating effect on their lives forever.

We ask customers to please consider this when judging Passover programs.

With God’s help we will get through this crisis and emerge stronger and in good health.

Raphi Bloom and Yaniv Madar run TotallyJewishTravel.com. Contact them at [email protected]