Amid terror wave, Israel sells over 900 tour packages through Groupon

More than 900 discounted vacation packages to Israel have been sold through the marketing website Groupon.

Some 920 eight-day tour packages had been sold for $999 each on the website as of Thursday afternoon. The trips, marketed jointly with Israel’s Tourism Ministry, include flights, hotels and tours throughout the country. They have been on sale for less than a week and will remain on sale for seven more days.

“As a result of the success of the campaign, I have issued instructions to try and expand the marketing efforts and cooperation with discount sales sites in other countries,” Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in a statement Thursday.

The offer comes amid a wave of terror that has affected tourism to Israel, the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot reported. The package is designed “to project a sense of business as usual and encourage tourism during the months when hotel occupancies in Israel are low,” Levin  told the newspaper.

The deal maker

Rob Jaffe was 47 and working in advertising on a product he described as a hard sell. He was looking for something new, when his sister forwarded him a “deal of the day” e-mail and suggested he find a way to get involved in this new concept.

Deal of the day sites like Groupon and Living Social, now a major trend, negotiate special rates with businesses in exchange for marketing their service or product to an opt-in database of users. Users are incentivized to spread the word through social networking by requiring a minimum number of buyers for each deal to activate, and the site splits the proceeds with the vendor.

Jaffe, whose sister is Wendy Jaffe, a columnist for this magazine, loved the idea, but decided to do something different with it: go hyper-local. “To get a daily e-mail from a business around the corner is even better,” he said. He decided to start with his own back yard. And so, Conejo Deals was born.

Jaffe also chose to add a new twist to the crowd-buying model by designating a dollar of every purchase to help a local school or charity. Members can choose from 25 different organizations, and everyone wins. The benefitting charities get needed funds, and Jaffe gets their support in marketing the site. Conejo Deals launched in April 2010 and already has donated nearly $7,500 to the community.

“Just about every business I’ve ever run a deal with has asked me to go again,” Jaffe said. He now has a 10,000-member base. “Businesses are thrilled to get people in their doors.”

Kim Barry of Jamie’s Hair Salon on Thousand Oaks Boulevard has been featured on Conejo Deals twice. She said that many of the buyers have become repeat customers. “My business was a little slow with the recession, and this helped it pick up.”

Conejo Deals subscriber Melanie Weisenfeld said she loves the variety of offers. “I’ve gotten caught up in the excitement of waking up in the morning to see what the new deal is,” she said. She and her friends like to discuss the deal of the day over coffee. “The psychic was really fun. I don’t know that I would have ever gone on my own, but with the deal, it’s really hard to resist.” She said the daily deals have also led her to get her first facial and to try new restaurants.

Jaffe says the best part of Conejo Deals is that, unlike his last job selling advertising, he doesn’t have to chase clients for their business. “I don’t call people, they call me!” 

Check out Conejo Deals at