March 12, 2012

Let My People Go

When Pharaoh let the Jews leave Egypt, the Israelites began a 40-year journey in the dessert and Jews have never stopped travelling. It was a joke in tiny Israel in the early 1950’s that with little less than 750,000 Jews, almost 20% travelled out of the country, so much so that someone had posted a sign in Haifa: “The last one out, please close the lights.” Nowadays, Jews disproportionately travel to the four corners of the earth. One Israeli travel agency puts it plainly “To Jews the entire world is its stage.” But no holiday is as well travelled for Jews than the upcoming Passover holiday which will see an estimated 50,000 Jews travel to over 200 destinations, including a significant number of world-class resorts. For many entrepreneurs, the Passover hotel business is a year-round business. It begins almost immediately after Passover with negotiating or renegotiating with a property and continues until several days after the holiday when management finally leaves to go back home. One industry source once estimated the business to be nearly $1 billion, certainly when factoring in travel. I never quite did the math but suffice it to say that it is significant. To be sure, not everyone who has ventured into this business was ultimately profitable. As some entrepreneurs explained it to me, one has to strike a fine balance between running a quality program and doing what every business is supposed to do, buy smartly, prepare properly and assure margins at every turn.

While it is true that they have a captive audience (people who simply find the preparations too taxing or who wish to use the long holiday as a family vacation), guests today have many options at almost every price range. They can almost pick the destination, select the crowd, and even choose the entertainment. They can also determine the standards of the kashrus by ascertaining who the rabbi is and so forth. If the Yom Tov of Pesach is all about freedom, making the choices on how to spend the holiday appears to be one choice more and more people enjoy making.