A half century after its founding, Isram World of Travel, later rebranded as Isramworld, is relaunching.
The company, now known as IWorld of Travel, is carrying forward the vision of its long-time owner and leader, Ady Gelber, under the leadership of his son Michael Gelber and Ady Gelber’s right-hand man and protégé Richard Krieger.
The rebirth of the company follows a period of transition after Ady Gelber’s death in April 2016. After Gelber’s death, the majority ownership of Isram passed to Gelber’s son and daughter, Michael and Elizabeth Gelber-Way. Michael took the reins of the company last May as CEO and chairman of the board.
“Filling the shoes of my father and mentor, Ady Gelber, will be no easy feat,” said Gelber. “I have always been in awe of my father’s passion, commitment and vision that led Isram to being one of America’s largest tour operators for many years. My father’s impact on American tourism to Israel will always be remembered and I am honored to have the opportunity to keep my father’s legacy alive.”
Michael Gelber was first brought into the company by his father in 2009 to upgrade and modernize Isram’s marketing with a social media marketing campaign and an overhaul of the company’s customer relations management and networking practices.
“There is no doubt that my father’s illness had an impact on the company over the past few years, even prior to his passing and I am committed to getting us back to a place that my father and our team would be proud. Our company has a 50-year heritage of being curators of travel across 56 countries worldwide. I am passionately committed to ensuring that Isramworld provides a fulfilling experience to our travel partners as we continue to grow on this journey together.”
Michael’s experience in business stretches across several industries. During the last seven years he served as president of Alexis Ventures and K. Alexis, companies involved in wine and the food and beverage industry. He was also involved in a series of projects, including a regional startup publication called Sactown Magazine, a national incentive-based travel group called Encenta, and the first multi-state dating service.
Michael Gelber is working with Richard Krieger, Isram’s president since 2013. Krieger was brought in by Ady Gelber in 2008 after working for 15 years in retail travel. He joined as director of sales and marketing and soon became Ady Gelber’s closest collaborator and confidante.
After Gelber’s death, Krieger took over the company, but in addition to maintaining normal operations, he had the extra task of working through the legal matters that arose after the death of its owner.
With his experience working closely with Ady Gelber on top of his previous experience working as a retailer, Krieger is well versed in the ins and outs of the travel business. But after the loss of Ady Gelber, he needed help managing the business.
Rebirth of the Company
“Ady’s passing had a tremendous impact on our company,” said Krieger. “We had had a couple of years of challenges followed by Ady’s passing. We were working to get on solid ground. In trying to find our immediate way forward we were dealing with high-level lawyers when Michael came to visit.
“He asked, ‘What do you need right now to get back to business?’ I said what we need is someone to lead the ship. Our team members are highly competent and have been 10, 20 and 30 years in the business. But we need high-level input.”
During a difficult transition, Isram pulled out of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, the elite tour operator association it had been a member of for decades. Krieger said he intends to return to the organization when the restructuring is complete and the company can once again put aside the $1 million bond required by USTOA of all its tour operator members. The transition was a challenge that required a tightening up and consolidation of resources.
The company is moving its main headquarters from New York to Fort Lauderdale, but will still maintain an office in New York. It has trimmed down and streamlined its operations, and changed its name to the more contemporary-sounding IWorld.
The company will concentrate primarily on four brands: The Americas, for Latin America; Europe & Beyond, for Europe and Morocco; Asia and Africa & The Middle East for Egypt, Jordan and the Middle East.
Holy Lands Sun Tours, Elite Travel Collection and Woman’s View continue as secondary brands, operated under the four primary brands.
A Half Century History
Isram World of Travel was founded in 1967 as a retail operation by American-based Israeli trade unionists with the purpose of forging a link between American Jews and Israel. It began as a single-destination operation specializing in travel to Israel. In 1969 it became a wholesaler, selling tours through travel agents, a policy it continues today.
Ady Gelber joined Isram as president in 1979, after working seven years working for El Al, the Israeli airline, in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was a district sales manager.
Gelber began working in the travel industry in Israel in 1960 as a ticketing agent with El Al. Later he worked as an airport traffic manager for Alitalia in Israel. And when El Al offered him a job in the U.S. he went to live in America.
When Gelber joined Isram, it was 90 percent travel to Israel, and 10 percent extensions to Greece on Israel packages. Gelber set out to grow and diversify the company, first internally, expanding Isram’s programs throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe. Then he began to expand by acquisition.
Isram, under Gelber, expanded with the acquisitions of Orient Flexi-Pax for Asia; Escapade Vacations for Spain, Portugal and Morocco; AIMS Travel for tours for doctors and Jewish Heritage Tours for travel throughout Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and Latin America; and The Americas for tours of Latin America.
The Way Forward
As he was introducing himself to Isram’s partners internationally, Michael Gelber retraced the footsteps of his father and learned a great deal about him that he had not known.
“The loyalty out there to my father is unbelievable,” said Gelber. “He was gregarious, charming and difficult. When he passed away we received thousands of emails and cards from people telling us of the things my dad did for them. The love and loyalty going both ways was really inspiring.”
Even though Richard Krieger worked closely with Ady Gelber for years, discovering the extent of the business after Gelber’s death was a revelation.
“It was very heartwarming as we traveled around in Egypt and Israel,” said Michael Gelber. “My father had an impact on this world. It is sincerely so refreshing to see the love and loyalty garnered around the world. My father was Isramworld. We are going to carry his legacy forward.”