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Tour and cruise operators respond quickly to avoid Israel warzone

While some close calls have been experienced, major cruise and tour operators have quickly adjusted itineraries involving Israel.

The world is expressing support and solidarity with Israel.

Australian tour operators have been quick to react to the highly volatile and unfolding warzone currently in Israel and Palestine.

Via its Smartraveller advice service for travellers, The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has raised the alert level for areas near Gaza to ‘Do Not Travel’, while a nationwide level of ‘Exercise a high degree of caution’ is in place for Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories.

While Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv remains open, many flights have been delayed or cancelled, with travellers asked to contact their airline for the latest updates. All flights operated by El Al Airlines are now departing from Terminal 3, even if originally scheduled for Terminal 1.

The airline is waiving all date change fees, fare differences and cancellation charges for travellers wishing to amend their travel plans until 21 October due to the security situation, with options also in place for travellers yet to depart for Israel to freeze their tickets for travel at a later date.

Holland America Line had perhaps the closest call to the surprise Hamas attacks, with MS Nieuw Statendam arriving at Haifa on the morning the atrocities began. Guests were midway through disembarkation, with some on shore excursions to the Galilee region, before the ship recalled all passengers for immediate departure – only three hours after arriving.

“Tour departed early this AM. We were on [a] tour of Galilee region at Jordan River when we were all recalled to the ship,” one affected traveller wrote on Cruise Critic.

“Awaiting last passengers to return so we can depart for sea as soon as possible. Three days in [the] Holy Land has become three hours. So many on this cruise picked this itinerary for Israel. Obviously this is beyond HALs control.”

Holland America Line's MS Nieuw Statendam was in Israel when violence broke out.

A statement from Holland America Line said the safety of its guests and crew was its top priority.

“After Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam arrived in Haifa, Israel on October 7, the Israeli government declared a state of emergency in response to terrorist attacks in the southern part of the state,” the statement reads.

“In consultation with security personnel, we halted disembarkation and recalled all shore excursions to bring guests back to the ship. All guests and crew were accounted for, and the ship departed Israel at 8:20 pm Saturday.”

Oceania Cruises’ vessel MS Nautica was also docked in Haifa at the time the violence began, with passengers also recalled to the ship, which departed a day earlier than scheduled.

"The safety and security of our guests and crew is always our number one priority and we are currently reviewing itinerary options to replace scheduled calls in Israel,” the line said in a statement.

Nautica has replaced the remaining days in Israel with impromptu stops in Limassol, Cyprus.

Oceania Cruises left Israel a day earlier than planned and shifted to Cyprus.

Royal Caribbean International has cancelled two scheduled departures on 9 October and 13 October on Rhapsody of the Seas that were due to sail round-trip from the Israeli port of Haifa to Cyprus and Greece, with all affected travellers to receive a full refund. The ship is currently in Greece, but the line says it is unclear when the ship will receive the green light to return to Israel.

Odyssey of the Seas is also in the region but will replace scheduled calls to Haifa and Ashdod with calls in Bodrum, Türkiye and Limassol, Cyprus, while sister brand Celebrity Cruises will replace Israeli port stops with additional overnight stays in Egypt, with its next sailing on 16 October now visiting the Greek Islands instead.

Several land tour operators have also been forced to make urgent changes to itineraries in nearby parts of the world due to the emergency.

Intrepid Travel told Traveltalk it had a small number of travellers in Israel when violence broke out over the weekend, but that all travellers and tour leaders are safely accounted for.

“Travellers initially stayed at their hotels with their tour leaders and most have now left the country, with the rest returning home tomorrow,” the company said.

This week, the company has decided to cancel all departures scheduled for Israel and Palestinian Territories until the end of 2023 and is now notifying all affected travellers.

“As the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is continuing to escalate and the Foreign Office is warning against all but essential travel, Intrepid has taken the decision to cancel all trips departing up until October 31. Our teams are contacting all customers affected.”

G Adventures said it had no tours currently operating in Israel at the time the attacks began, but it was making efforts to contact travellers on the ground who were due to join an upcoming tour.

The company has cancelled six tours departing in Israel up to 15 October and is urging customers to leave the country as soon as it is safe to do so.

Tour operators are mobilising travellers out of Israel and cancelling upcoming departures.
Image: Amnesty International

Inspiring Vacations said it was in constant contact with its ground operator teams in Israel and was closely monitoring local advice from authorities.

"All of our customers in Israel have been moved over the border to Jordan; they are now safe at their hotel in Amman and will fly home in the coming days," a statement from the tour operator said.

"We have contacted all customers due to arrive in Israel this month and made alternative arrangements for them."

Bunnik Tours Co-CEO Dennis Bunnik told Traveltalk his thoughts were with all those caught up in the terrible situation.

“Bunnik Tours currently have no passengers on the ground in Israel,” Bunnik’s statement said.

“Effective immediately we have suspended all touring in Israel until further notice.

“We have a number of Egypt, Jordan and Israel tours running and about to depart. All clients on tour are safe and well. The tours on the ground are being changed to avoid Israel with additional nights and sightseeing in Jordan and Egypt.  All impacted clients and their travel agents were contacted over the weekend.

“Egypt, Jordan and Israel tours yet to depart are being handled on a case by case basis with clients and travel agents being contacted today.”

The Travel Corporation also issued a statement saying neither Insight Vacations or Trafalgar had any tours operating in the affected areas at present but that all upcoming departures involving Israel to 1 November 2023 have been suspended, with affected guests to be contacted and offered options to reschedule or switch to a different destination.

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Written by: Matt Lennon
Published: 8 October 2023

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