Greetings, I am James Ridgway from Jerusalem. It is January 6 it has been a cool and clear day here in Jerusalem. We have received an increasing number of phone calls about the recent air strike at the Baghdad airport and the increased rhetoric between the United States and Iran. I would like to take a few minutes to address this situation with you today.
I have been in the Holy Land since December 29 and have been involved and supervising preparations for the beginning of our winter season. We currently have over 15 staff here in the Holy Land waiting to serve our travelers. Tourism has been breaking records here for the last three years, and we have almost 900 pilgrims arriving over the next 4 days. Preparations are ready for their pilgrimage in the Holy Land beginning this week.
With the recent actions by our military, I understand that there is concern about traveling to the Middle East as depicted in our media. Let me assure that everything is totally normal in Israel including Jerusalem and Bethlehem and also in Jordan. We have video footage from Dr. Monte Luker's group in Bethlehem today. It is Christmas Eve in the Orthodox tradition, and it was a festive day in Bethlehem which is an Arab city in the West Bank. Everyone was perfectly at ease. Dr. Luker will join us shortly to discuss his day.
I walked to meetings at the Garden Tomb and in East Jerusalem both in Arab areas today and everything was completely normal. For the Sunni Arab world, the Iranians/Persian/Shiites are long-standing enemies, and certainly not allies. There is certainly no anger on the Arab street in the Holy Land. At the Garden Tomb, the executives are far more concerned about how to handle the record number of visitors than the situation which is dominating our news cycle. In reality here, the only way that we even know there is a problem in this region is by watching Fox or CNN. All touring and activities are occurring normally for all of our pilgrims. With an abundance of rain, the country is quite green and the Sea of Galilee has risen steadily the past few months.
In our 46 years, EO has rarely seen the situation in the Middle East peaceful. Since the early 1990’s, we have seen 2 Gulf Wars, a wave of terrorism, 9/11, 2nd Intifada, 2nd Lebanon War, multiple Gaza conflicts, Arab Spring, Egyptian Revolution, Syrian Civil War, and the rise and fall of ISIS. Few of these came with warning, but throughout all of these events the safety of our guests (pilgrims) was our priority, and no pilgrim has been harmed in Israel during any of these events. We maintain extensive communications with all of our guides and local staff Of course, we encourage all of our travelers no matter where they are in the world to be aware of their surroundings and to be vigilant of their safety.
In the case of Iran, which is over 1000 miles from Israel, we have periodically over the past two decades had to reassure travelers when Israel and Iran have used strong rhetoric toward each other in the U.N. Assembly or otherwise. Our guests have never been affected by any Iranian action or rhetoric in over four decades. At the moment, the State Department advisory for Israel is at Level 2 which is where it has been since the new numbering system debuted a number of years ago. The text of the advisory has remain largely unchanged with the usual cautions since the year 2000. The entire tourism industry including the airlines are functioning as normal. Normal cancellation penalties are being enforced.