Late last week, IsramWorld released a statement from President and CEO A. Ady Gelber announcing that the tour operator would no longer offer tours to Russia. The suspension, Gelber explained, is a result of the Russian government's recent open declarations of anti-gay sentiment and the enactment of regulations that could endanger or discriminate against gay travelers or travelers who "exhibit a tolerance for the LGBT lifestyle."
“The moment it surfaced, I said, ‘the heck with it,” Gelber told Travel Agent. “I don’t need to send people to a destination where I don’t like the politics.” The decision was made quickly, he added, and he is not concerned about negative repercussions. “I’ve got a lot of support,” he said. “I didn’t look at it as public relations.”
The public displays of support began almost immediately: Less than a day after IsramWorld announced its new policy, The Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) offered its support to Gelber and IsramWorld, saying that it "fully supports IsramWorld in this rejection of prejudice. Current regulations in the Russian Federation put clients at risk, should they even 'appear' gay, bisexual or transgender. Even the appearance of tolerance is punishable." John Faulds, vice-chair of ARTA, noted that "travel [is] the greatest people-to-people bridge, but it seems the Russian Federation is eager to take an historic leap backwards to intolerable prejudice."
Gelber has taken similar positions before, and seen similar shows of support: In early 2009, IsramWorld suspended tours to the United Arab Emirates after they prohibited entry to travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports. “That taught me that I have a lot of support from agents,” he said. “The agents supported me and I believed in it. Our business is from agents, so I’m very pleasantly surprised with the whole situation.”
When Travel Agent posted the news of Gelber’s decision last week, several readers shared their thoughts: “Kudos to Isramworld for not putting ‘making money’ ahead of this issue. If others can do the same, Russia will fold.” “I applaud Isramworld for standing up for what is right.” “Congrats to Isramworld for not supporting discrimination.” “I applaud Isramworld's proactive decision and hope that more tour operators, vendors and suppliers follow their lead.”
While it is too early to see whether this will become a trend with other tour operators and businesses, Gelber said that he appreciates the support from individuals and other companies.