Iris Hami CEO of Gil Travel Group Shares Her Vision for Jewish Travel

Iris Hami CEO of Gil Travel Group Shares Her Vision for Jewish Travel

Gil Travel Group has over 40 years of experience in Jewish heritage travel. They take travelers all over the world, from groups looking to experience the results of the Abraham Accords firsthand in the UAE to others going to Argentina for the Maccabi games.

We sat down with Iris Hami, CEO of Gil Travel, to learn more about her company and the many fabulous places they explore.

As the CEO of Gil Travel, could you tell us about the inception of your Jewish travel agency and what inspired you to venture into this niche?

Gil Travel was started by my husband Igal Hami in 1974 to bring tourists to Israel at a time when tourism was down after the Yom Kippur War.

I had been working in the travel business since I graduated from college in 1976 but I joined my husband in 1988.

Why Travel?

I traveled every summer with my family growing up, and when I grew older, whenever I had a moment, I traveled.

I had the opportunity to enter the field in college and have remained ever since.

What makes Gil Travel stand out among other Jewish heritage travel agencies?

We don’t just provide a Jewish Heritage tour.  On our tours, we delve into the past and present community life historically as well as culturally.

How do you ensure you provide a unique and engaging experience to your clients? 

We often visit with the Jewish community on trips to places like Jewish schools, Jewish Old Age Homes, Shops of Jewish owners, Kosher restaurants owned by Jewish owners etc.

Your agency is often cited as one of the best Jewish tour companies. What are the key factors that contribute to your consistent high performance and customer satisfaction?

The key factor is our well-trained team of experts.

They spend a lot of time investigating the customers’ needs, their wishes and dreams.  We think of every detail of their customer journey.

Could you talk about how Gil Travel integrates elements of Jewish heritage and history into your tours? What are some of the favorite destinations among your clients?

Gil Travel knows very well that it’s a mix of the culture and its Jewish culture that must be seen.  An interesting combination of both is what creates the perfect trip.

How has the landscape of Jewish travel agencies changed since you started Gil Travel? What changes or trends do you see on the horizon?

When we first started marketing Jewish Tourism, it was mainly to Israel.

In the late 80’s more and more clients started requesting to travel to other destinations with a Jewish history, especially after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Now, we’ve seen that more and more clients are looking for a more personalized curated program with more interactive activities. They really want to immerse themselves in the place and get to know the people.

What kind of challenges have you encountered running a Jewish travel agency and how have you overcome them?

Our clients are expecting our team to have a full knowledge of what has and continues to transpire in the Jewish community that they visit. This means our team needs to continuously visit the locations to stay connected to the local Jewish community.

Could you share an instance where Gil Travel designed a unique itinerary that perfectly encapsulated the essence of Jewish heritage for a client?

One of our clients, an 86-year-old woman, wanted to explore her family’s roots in Poland.

We were able to find someone who researched information about her grandparents whom she never met – she visited their hometown in Lodz, she saw where their factory stood, where their home once stood. She saw the yeshiva where her dad studied before he was sent to the USA and she visited Auschwitz where her family perished.

How do you adapt your tours to cater to different audiences, like families, scholars, or individuals interested in exploring their Jewish heritage?

We look at every trip as a  curated experience.

We send out extensive questionnaires prior to planning a program that takes into account the size of the group, the ages of the travelers, their interests, and their family history and roots.  We adapt the program individually to them.

Looking forward, what are your plans for expanding Gil Travel's offerings as a Jewish travel agency?

We are constantly looking for new ways to travel within the Jewish World.

One project we’re really excited to be offering is an experience to follow the Trade Route which would encompass Turkey, Azerbaijan, and parts of Central Asia

What strategies does Gil Travel employ to stay ahead of other Jewish heritage travel agencies?

We try to stay up to date with the best locations by always traveling to different locations, scouting different communities, and learning what they have to offer. Our differentiator is really our connections.

What is the most rewarding aspect of leading a Jewish travel agency like Gil Travel?

As a Jew, there is nothing more rewarding than learning history through travel.

I am passionate about Jewish history and I feel blessed to be able to learn about different Jewish communities and their history as part of my work.  There is always something new to learn and a new destination to showcase.

Interested in a Jewish heritage tour with Gil Travel? Contact them today.