Georgi, are you new to travel business?
I was the Deputy General Manager of a book-selling company. Everything was going well, but...repatriation ended and emigrants from the former Soviet Union almost stopped arriving. And our children read in Russian less and less. Overall, fewer and fewer Russian books were selling and gradually business dried up. In the end, I quit the job.It just so happened that practically a couple of days after I quit my job, my friend and neighbour (he worked as a driver for a large travel agency which organizes medical tourism in Israel) had suddenly to go over to America. He said to me: “Help me out, cover for me for 25 days, you’re unemployed anyway.”I passed an interview, various checks, and for almost a month worked as a driver in his place. The job was to meet clients at the airport and to accompany them for the duration of their stay in Israel. Take them to the clinic and, in between treatments, to some tourist spots... When my friend came back from his trip to America, the company decided to send two other drivers on leave, one after the other, and they asked if I wanted to work for them while the drivers were away. I agreed, as I was already finding it interesting. I began to learn the tourist routes, read the travel guides, historical literature, look at the guides at work...When I had finished my career as a “substitute driver”, I put my phone number on various Internet “notice-boards.” “Reception, Send-off, Hotel booking, Guides.” By then, I had acquaintances who rented out fully furnished apartments on the Mediterranean coast by the day, who were professional guides etc. In other words, my own database. And it worked. All my customers left satisfied...Suddenly some friends turned to me: a relative of ours is ill, can you help?There have always been a lot of doctors amongst my acquaintances. One of them is the writer Leon AGULANSKY. He is a well-known doctor in Israel and, at the same time, he writes books, screenplays, and drama. That‘s how I got to know him. He took part in our book exhibitions and broadcasts we organised for television. He has been in Israel for several decades already and he always said to me: “If you ever need a doctor of any kind, we‘ll find the best.”
Medicine in Israel is one of the best in the world. It has a special feature: the doctor in charge is responsible for everything.
I took the chart sent to me by email and went to him. They found the best doctors in that field, consulted them and made the best possible decision for my friends‘ relative. And the story got out... After the first came another and then another. In between treatments, I organised excursions.What kind of illnesses?There was an oncology case, then they brought a little girl with a growth on a bone in her foot, which required cosmetic surgery, there was a child with autism... In the latter case, treatment was carried out by psychotherapists and psychologists with talking and some lessons. I was struck myself just how much it all helped. All that it took is talking to her (a little girl of just over five years old) and looking her straight in the eye, and the situation improved. Then they gave the parents 48 pages of recommendations to carry out just about every day to follow.Medicine in Israel is one of the best in the world. It has a special feature: the doctor in charge is responsible for everything. He himself rents the operating room, the ward etc. And it is he, the doctor in charge, who bears the responsibility for the result of the treatment, not the doctor on duty, not the nurse. Even at night, if there is something wrong with the patient, naturally the staff on duty give all the necessary assistance, but they quickly summon the doctor in charge. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of medical practice in Israel. Nobody waits till the morning.We find the best doctors and there are no problems at all with the clinics. There are some magnificent medical centres like “Ichilov”, the “Assuta” network of clinics, “Medical Center” and others. But the best clinic of all is, of course, “Assuta”. My doctor friends themselves admire this clinic. It is the newest one, built only a few years ago, with all the most up-to-date equipment.You came to Russia only for a week. What did you manage to do in these seven days in Moscow?I visited a few travel agencies (Discovery, Intourmarket) and medical establishments. We made arrangements for cooperation: in the very near future we will complete our database and they will begin to look for clients.
And one of the aims of the Moscow House of Compatriots is the development of economic cooperation and providing consultations involving leading Moscow companies and experts.
How did you find your future partners in Russia?I put my official position to good use (laughs). I am the director of the Russian Language Centre of Information and Culture in Israel. There are such organisations, bringing people of the former Soviet Union together, in most countries of the world. And in all such organisations there are very close contacts with the Moscow House of Compatriots. Before this, Israelis would come to me (you don‘t have to originate from the Soviet Union, by the way) and ask me to find reliable contacts in Russia. And one of the aims of the Moscow House of Compatriots is the development of economic cooperation and providing consultations involving leading Moscow companies and experts. Before I arrived consultants from the LAKARUS GROUP had prepared a list of dependable companies ready to cooperate. And the main thing is that these companies were already waiting for me: I had been recommended to them as a dependable Israeli partner.There are a lot of travel agencies on the market these days...Our speciality is tailored service. Depending on the clients‘ requests, we meet them at the airport, if necessary organise a VIP-lounge, take them to a hotel or an apartment. We change the itinerary as required. It can happen that a client has caught a cold, which means that he shouldn’t take a trip into the mountains: so we change the route and think of something else. Everyone has his or her own needs. And we are with our clients from the first meeting to the final send-off. Many things can happen. A couple with a child from St. Petersburg were holidaying with us and on the day before last their three-year-old daughter fell ill. Furthermore it wasn‘t clear what was wrong with her: her symptoms were very unusual (then after all tests, when the results came back, it turned out that she was simply suffering from heat-exposure from the sun). Naturally, they had medical insurance. They went to a clinic. But it turns out that now it is necessary, on the day you go to the clinic, to freeze a rather large amount of money in your bank account. They got in touch with the insurance company and they said: pay on the spot, bring the supporting documentation and we will reimburse you the money on your return to Russia. But the holidaying couple had brought only the exact amount of money they needed for their trip and for the last few days had only enough left for the Duty Free... I offered my Visa card and paid for the treatment (it was necessary to freeze about 16,000 shekels, the treatment cost in total 3,500 shekels – about 1,000 dollars). As soon as they returned to St. Petersburg, the clients sent me all the money, and a little later they called me to say that the insurance company had reimbursed them the whole amount without any problems. But somebody had to pay there and then.You get many different situations. Some other holidaymakers arrived in Tel Aviv and in the hotel they were convinced that they had to visit King Solomon‘s spring in the North. We changed the itinerary, organised a trip to the spring and, at the same time, our guests were baptised in the holy waters of the Jordan, the place where John baptised Jesus...We take all of this upon ourselves. I‘ve spoken with travel agencies about how we do not yet have a steady stream of clients (hopefully we will). But on the other hand, we offer quality, accountability and the main thing: integrity.How many people now work for your company?Two. By the way, the large, extremely successful company whose driver I covered for is called “Panacea”. It was set up 15 years ago by two brothers who bought a car and then set out on this kind of business. Now they have a large staff, offices in Israel and Moscow, and they work with leading Russian companies...We have someone to look up to. And the new mini-van, so that our clients are nice and comfortable – that, I have bought already.