After a couple of quiet years in Eilat, the Red Sea city is buzzing. The Gaza conflict of 2014 hit the resort hard, with the effects also badly marring 2015. But last year and this year have told a very different story.
The winter following the Gaza conflict was a disaster, after charter flights were cancelled, with arrivals of foreign tourists at the main entry point, Ovda airport, down more than two thirds on the previous winter and standing at just 18,000. This winter some 150,000 tourists are expected to arrive at Ovda — even up to 250,000 according to the Tourism Ministry — restoring tourism to levels last seen in the 1990s.
The Ovda figures do not cover all incoming tourists to Eilat but give a good indication. And they reflect a market of holidaymakers and airlines excited about the resort. One after another, low-cost operators have laid on flights to Eilat, viewing its winter sun as the type of destination that is an attractive getaway.
The latest airline to market Eilat is Wizz Air, the largest low-cost airline in Central and Eastern Europe, which has announced four new low-fare routes to Ovda, from Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania. In July, Ryanair announced it would run 12 routes to Ovda, from Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia. Both airlines start flying for the winter season.
When Ryanair made its announcement — which also included routes to Tel Aviv — Yariv Levin, Israel’s tourism minister, called it a “testament to the substantial improvement in Israel’s attractiveness as a tourism destination”. Levin paid tribute to Eilat in particular, saying the new Ovda flights are a “great vote of confidence in the Israeli tourism product.” These airlines are not flying from the UK to Eilat but British tourists can still benefit. Several of the airports with Ovda flights are easy and inexpensive to access from the UK — and when you snap up an Odva flight, you may well be bagging a bargain, as they are made artificially cheap.
Israel’s tourism mnistry and the Eilat Hotels Association give a serious subsidy towards each flight — the government expects to invest 50 million shekels (more than £10 million) in subsidies this year.
There are direct flights from Britain too — at press time, flights from London to Ovda with Monarch were starting at $123 (about £95) and the return portion was starting at $38 (£30).