For tours in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Flights and Airports
The majority of Lightline pilgrim parties travel on BA and EasyJet airlines which are reputable airlines 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 airports include London Luton, London Gatwick and Manchester, all with first-class facilities.
We use a number hotels in Israel, which Lightline has worked with successfully for 30 years. The majority are Christian owned and managed. The hotels are regularly inspected by Lightline staff and our agents 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 all hotels meet local standards of health and safety.
Coaches and Travel
All our coaches are supplied through our local ground agent Via Emmaus Tours for all of our transportation through Israel and Palestine. Coaches are modern with air conditioning and maintained to an exceptionally high standard. All drivers are experienced in pilgrimage travel and working with tour groups. Drivers’ hours are strictly adhered to and recorded. Our local office inspects all the applicable certificates on an annual basis. We do not use public transport, which considerably reduces the risk element.
Every Lightline pilgrimage is accompanied from arrival in Israel to departure by a licensed local guide. We employ specialised professional representatives at airports. Most of our hotels are “family” and can provide assistance in case of need – most commonly when someone is ill. An emergency telephone number is manned 24 hours a day at the Lightline office both in Jerusalem and the UK, we can quickly be in communication with any group either through the guide, Via Emmaus Tours or hotel reception.
The Touring Programme
Each pilgrimage itinerary is a variation on a template which has evolved over forty 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 and Palestine. Our local office checks safety certificates annually.
Lunches are included in some but not all of 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 Galilean areas of the tour tend to be very relaxed and crime free.
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.
Lightline Pilgrimages and staff are experienced tour operators which have been organising tours to the region for forty years. For most of this time, the company has worked in partnership with a Jerusalem Christian travel agency, Via Emmaus Tours. Each tour leader is provided with 24 hour telephone numbers of Lightline in London and Via Emmaus in Jerusalem.
The Via Emmaus office maintains close, personal contact with the British Embassy in Israel, and Lightline 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.
Lightline remains constantly vigilant and has strategies in place to deal with any potential situation. The company has experience of crisis management and Lightline’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 Via Emmaus office. The Via Emmaus 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 Lightline office in London and we would be in contact with the British Foreign Office in London.
Lightline has been operating for twenty 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 twenty 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 Lightline Pilgrimages Ltd.