Every year before Passover, many community members make plans to travel for the entire eight days, to avoid preparing their own homes for the holiday. There are many highly popular inclusive Passover vacation experiences with kosher food, entertainment and seders. This year, however, the coronavirus is already affecting people’s plans to travel for Passover, which begins on April 8.
Doni Schwartz, the 34-year-old Los Angeles-based co-founder of travel website Passoverlistings.com, told the Journal, “There’s a lot of nervousness swirling, especially in Europe and even in the U.S. due to the virus. Customers are pulling out and changing plans at the last minute. This is the month before [Passover], so this is go time.”
Schwartz’s website features user-submitted reviews of more than 150 Passover retreats in the U.S. and overseas. He said several Passover travel programs already have canceled their programs because of the coronavirus, COVID-19.
His company also runs the Facebook group Passover Program Reviews, and comments have increasingly focused on anxiety around the coronavirus.
“I’m going to a local Pesach program with my family, but as the coronavirus pandemic grows, I’m concerned about other guests, kitchen staff and waiters that arrive from high-risk areas,” New York-based Dov Herman commented on the Facebook page.
“The better question is how are these programs going to deal with buffets where 500-1,000 people will be touching everything?” Florida-based Marci Uvlin Pachter responded on the page.
Schwartz said Passover travel program operators, to their credit, are trying to be as accommodating as possible to their worried customers, with some refunding 50% of customers’ money and offering to put the other half toward a program in 2021.
“There’s a lot of nervousness swirling, especially in Europe and even in the U.S. due to the virus. Customers are pulling out and changing plans at the last minute. This is the month before [Passover], so this is go time.” — Doni Schwartz
“Reputation is everything and is king in this industry,” Schwartz said. “Especially for programs [that have been running for] around 20-30 years. They don’t want their reputation tarnished because of this unfortunate [situation]. [The program operators] want to really understand what the best path forward is to ensure [they don’t alienate customers].”
Overseas, some programs have already been canceled, including GEM Kosher, which organizes a kosher, family-friendly Passover vacation in Thailand. The company posted on its website: “With the Pesach vacation being a mere two months ahead, being fully committed to the highest health and safety standards and being fully attentive to all concerns made by many of you in recent days, means it is now our sad duty to announce that the Pesach 2020 vacation cannot be carried out as planned.”
Schwartz said the Passover travel company Leisure Time Tours also has canceled its program in Italy, which has been at the center of the European outbreak.
While those planning Passover vacations in Europe are likely reconsidering their options, Schwartz said, “I don’t think a majority of people will pull out of the U.S.”
As for his own Passover vacation, Schwartz said he is planning to go with his pregnant wife to a kosher program in San Diego run by a company called Upscale Getaways. Unconcerned about the coronavirus, he said, “We’re excited.”