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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Peerless celebrates 22 years in the travel business

Tags: Business Travel
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Ehud Telem

When it comes to booking a vacation, there’s a lot you can do on the Internet all by yourself. You can book through an online agency and get a pretty attractive package, including air, hotel and ground transportation.

You can even book different parts of the trip separately and create your own package. But being able to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it, said Ehud Telem.

Saving a few dollars does not come close to making up for the loss of personalized service, expertise and industry connections that are offered by full-service tour operators, he said.

If Telem’s name is familiar to many CJN readers, it’s likely because his company, Peerless Travel, has been in business 22 years, and if you’ve travelled to Israel, there’s a good chance you went through Peerless. His company is an industry leader when it comes to putting bums in seats and sending them to Israel.

“We move about 60,000 people to places all over the world, 10,000 of them to Israel,” Telem said. That’s out of a total of around 75,000 Canadian passport holders who made the trip to Israel last year.

“No one is competitive on that scale,” he said, not when Peerless sends 200 groups a year to the Holy Land.

 Telem realizes that when he speaks about the industry, touting his own company and questioning the benefits of travelling in private groups with “charismatic” tour guides and online discounters, the suggestion will arise that he’s got a personal interest he’s promoting. But hear him out, he said. He has a case to make.

“It’s like doing your financial statements on your own and trying to bypass the professional. In the end, it costs you more,” he said.

Look at Internet booking, he said. Once you’ve got the tickets in hand and the arrangements are made, you’re pretty much on your own. If something goes wrong – if someone at the destination goes bankrupt – good luck getting alternative arrangements or your money back, he said.

“If you go through us, you’re insured, and if our end supplier goes bankrupt, they have insurance,” he said.

For Internet bookings, “in 90 per cent of cases, we can do the same or better in terms of price. And we give service. They do not.

“We have tons of back doors” to contact air carriers and tour operators, to make sure things go smoothly, he said.

If your flight is cancelled or delayed, who will take care of you? If you don’t like your room or your hotel, what do you do. Peerless has partners in Israel that can take care of you, he said.

You won’t save much booking online, since margins in the industry are generally pretty small, he added.

 “Twenty per cent of our clients are Internet casualties. They tried the Internet, and they had a bad experience. Now they’re back to a full-service travel agency.”

People hear about good guides by word-of-mouth, but because Peerless sends so many groups to Israel each year, it is able to hire the very best guides. Operating on the scale they do, Peerless and its partners make sure they get first access to attractions – “there’s no standing in line” – and you get the best hotels and rooms from incoming tour operators, he said.

What’s more, even though other guides “are as nice as they are, as knowledgeable as they are, they can’t get the prices we can,” and sometimes not even the kind of experiences – such as a visit to a Bedouin tent – that a larger group gets, Telem added.

So what’s ahead when it comes to travel to Israel? Telem believes that market has room to grow, but slowly, even though only 20 per cent of Canadian Jews have ever visited the Holy Land.

Family tours centred on a life-cycle event, like a bar or bat mitzvah, are “once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” but they’re pricey and not a big part of the business, he said. He is, however, seeing more repeat business as parents travel to the Holy Land to visit children studying in yeshivot.

Still, in the last two years, Peerless has grown by 17 per cent. A part of that growth is from corporate bookings.

With 80 employees in four offices in the Toronto area and revenues in the millions, Peerless no doubt is an industry leader when it comes to full-service travel.

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