The JC wot done it (or, at least, we helped)

November 24, 2016 22:51

I am feeling smug. Forgive me, but something the JC has been campaigning for has become a reality. It isn't, sadly, world peace, or the eradication of hunger, but - in the context of British Jews, it is a tiny victory. This coming winter, there will be direct flights - 14 in all - between London and Eilat. They will be operated by Isrotel - they will be called the Isrotel Sun Express - and I like to think that the JC played some part in the decision to launch the flights.

Last September, in the JC comment pages, I wrote an opinion piece entitled "Why does Israel make it so hard to visit Eilat?" ( I pointed out that British visitor numbers had fallen from around 45,000 in 1997 to 6,000 last year, and asked why we sun-loving Brits were no longer flocking to Israel's south to "soak up the winter-round sunshine, luxuriate in its world-class hotels, snorkel round the coral reef, take desert tours and generally chill out."

The answer - or, at least, my answer - was that it was no longer as easy to get to Eilat as it had been back in 1997, when there were two weekly flights to Ovda by El Al, and a third by Monarch. Two years ago, Longwood Holidays put on its own somewhat erratic charter flights to Eilat (operated with Israir, and the subject of substantial criticism), and last winter arranged a series of flights which were discontinued in January when the media fall-out from the Gaza conflict virtually wiped out demand for Eilat holidays.

In the meantime, El Al had made it so dauntingly difficult to get to Eilat via Ben Gurion (or, to be more precise, to return from Eilat via Ben-Gurion, insisting that you could only benefit from a painless, single check-in if you took their early-morning flight, entailing a 4am departure from your hotel), that all but the most dedicated Israelophiles would have decided to go to the Canaries or Florida for their fix of winter sun.

Then, back in March, when I was the guest of Isrotel boss David Lewis aboard his company jet for a 48-hour visit to Eilat (regular readers may recall that Mr Lewis was the recipient of an honour from the people of the Red Sea resort - I was there to cover the event for the JC), I had the opportunity to talk to lots of people connected with Eilat tourism. As the JC's travel editor, I made the point that we believed that part of the fall-off in demand was due to the lack of direct flights between London and Eilat. UK visitors, I said so often that my own eyes began to glaze over, need a regular schedule of weekly flights so they could plan their winter-sun holiday to Eilat and - far more important - they needed the journey to be speedy and painless enough to appeal to families with young children or the elderly - two categories of visitors who were once the lifeblood of the resort. What they did not want was to have to change planes in Tel Aviv at 10pm, carrying a brood of tired - possibly sleeping - children from one aircraft to another, before arriving at their hotel, utterly exhausted, at midnight. But what they wanted even less, was - on the return leg - to have to wake said children (or even themselves) at 3am in order to check in at Eilat City Airport at 4am for a flight to Ben-Gurion, followed by a two-hour wait for the onward flight to London. Add to that, the loss of an entire day of a week-long holiday - Monday to Monday became Tuesday morning to Sunday night - and the fact that the total journey time from departing your hotel (4am) to arrival at Heathrow (2pm) - 12 hours if you take into account the time difference - and you could have got to Florida more quickly.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying kol hakavod - congratulations - to Isrotel for putting on the flights. It is just up to us - the UK community - now, to use the flights when they go on sale at the end of the month, to enjoy all the fabulousness that Eilat has to offer, to justify Isrotel's decision.

November 24, 2016 22:51

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