For tours in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Flights and airports
The majority of McCabe pilgrim parties travel on EL AL Israel Airlines which is a reputable worldwide airline with excellent security procedures and safety records. The airports (London Heathrow and Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv) are again modern and have no safety issue question marks over them. Other carriers used include British Airways, EasyJet and Turkish Airlines, all of which are top grade carriers. Other airports include Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin and Manchester, all with first-class facilities.
We use two principal hotels in Israel, which McCabe has worked with successfully for 30 years. These are the Golden Walls, Jerusalem and the Ron Beach, Tiberias. Both are of international standard. The hotels are regularly inspected by McCabe staff to ensure that they satisfy the company’s high expectations and standards. Our partner office in Jerusalem checks that fire certificates are up-to-date and that both hotels meet local standards of health and safety. The Ron Beach has a swimming pool and is also on the lakeside. These areas are not always supervised but there are clear and prominent warning signs.
Coaches and travel
We use one coach company for all of our transportation in Israel. Nazareth Transportation Company is one of the three largest coach companies in Israel and utilises all the latest technology. Key features are a control system which monitors and records exactly where any coach is at any time and the speed the coach is travelling at. Drivers’ hours are strictly adhered to and also recorded. Coaches are modern and maintained to an exceptionally high standard. Drivers have at least some English and are used to working with tour groups. They are in constant touch with their office (in Nazareth) and therefore kept informed of any problems on the roads or with local events. Our local office inspects all the applicable certificates on an annual basis. Public transport is not used which considerably reduces the risk element.
Every McCabe pilgrimage is accompanied from arrival in Israel to departure by a licensed local guide. We employ specialised professional representatives at airports. Both of our main hotels are “family” and provide assistance in case of need – most commonly when someone is ill. An emergency telephone number is manned 24 hours a day at the McCabe office and we can quickly be in communication with any group either through the guide, coach driver or hotel reception.
The Touring Programme
Each pilgrimage itinerary is a variation on a template which has evolved over thirty years. The programme takes into account the fact that many pilgrims are elderly. Warning notes are provided to pilgrims about entering the Dead Sea – which is perfectly safe as long as basic precautions are adhered to such as not getting water in eyes or swallowing it. The programme may include one or two cable cars (at Masada and in Jericho), both of which are built to western standards and used by the majority of visitors in Israel. Our local office checks safety certificates annually.
We include lunches in our programmes. Restaurants are chosen carefully and hygiene certificates checked annually by our local office. This means the group can rely on high standards of hygiene and food quality during the tour, as meals are pre-booked at reputable establishments. There is typically very little free time on a pilgrimage which means that a guide is usually present giving advice on dangers such as slippery slopes, uneven paths etc.
Security is generally in evidence throughout the country. In the Old City, for example, there is a regular army presence with tourist safety a prime factor. Potential flashpoint areas, such as the Temple Mount and Western Wall area, are particularly tightly policed.
The company do give a mild warning to be careful on venturing out into the Old City at night, but this would be relevant advice in any location in the world and is as much about common sense as about any particular threat. Warning is also given of the threat of pick-pockets and robbery, particularly in Jerusalem and particularly on the Mount of Olives. This is reinforced by the guide during the tour. The other base for the tour, Tiberias, tends to be very relaxed, crime free and is in effect a resort-town.
When crossing into Palestinian areas, such as Bethlehem and Bethany, the group are again accompanied by their guide and coach driver, who enjoy excellent relationships with the local communities.
McCabe Pilgrimages is an experienced tour operator which has been organising tours to the region for thirty years. For most of this time, the company has worked in partnership with a Jerusalem travel agency, Albina Tours. Each tour leader is provided with 24 hour telephone numbers of McCabe in London and Albina in Jerusalem.
The Albina office maintains close, personal contact with the British Embassy in Israel, and McCabe Pilgrimages are in direct contact with the British Foreign Office in London. We follow advice and avoid areas that may be unsettled. For instance, every week we avoid the Temple Mount vicinity on Fridays, when demonstrations often accompany Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque. Although the area experiences ongoing tension, the problems have historically not affected tourists and pilgrims to the region. It should be noted that tourism and receiving pilgrims is a key economic activity for both Palestinians and Israelis and therefore both sides co-operate to make visitors welcome.
McCabe remains constantly vigilant and has strategies in place to deal with any potential situation. The company has experience of crisis management, recently; for example, having to evacuate tourists from Syria due to the onset of violence. In Israel and Palestine, McCabe’s longstanding relationships with airlines, hotels, coach companies and other local partners mean that in an emergency, parties would be quickly moved or evacuated.
Our immediate point of contact with any party is the guide’s mobile telephone. In case of emergency, the guide would contact the Albina office. The Albina office would then contact whoever would be appropriate, for instance the British Consulate in East Jerusalem, the hotels, and/or airline. They would also of course be in contact with the McCabe office in London and we would be in contact with the British Foreign Office in London.
Nazareth Coach Company, has traditionally been our eyes and ears in Israel. Each coach is electronically monitored and has radio contact with the hub in Nazareth. The company is aware immediately if any coach runs into problems, and often has prior knowledge to avoid problem areas.
McCabe has been operating for thirty years and in cases of “force majeure” normal booking conditions are waived and everybody co-operates to solve the immediate problem. A recent example would be the ash cloud covering Europe. In thirty years, we can say quite honestly that none of our travellers have been caught up in any incidents. We always follow British Foreign Office advice. In the case of the Syrian conflict we cancelled all of our 2011 pilgrimages before the Foreign Office actually advised us to do so. More recently with the British Foreign Office change of advice to people visiting the area around St Catherine’s, we re-arranged the itineraries of groups travelling to avoid this area completely.
Prepared by McCabe Pilgrimages