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Direct Eilat flights in the pipeline

    The world's largest travel group, TUI, will launch direct flights and tourism packages to Eilat, from both London and Manchester, for the 2011 winter season.

    The move was announced this week by senior TUI managers following meetings in Israel with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnkov.

    Additionally, packages to the Red Sea resort will be promoted with a £1 million marketing campaign in the UK. The Eilat packages will be operated by two TUI firms - the UK's largest travel operators - Thomson Holidays and First Choice. They will offer one direct flight a week from London and one from Manchester, from October 2011 to April 2012.

    The announcement follows a second season in which UK visitors will find it difficult to fly direct to Eilat for a winter-sun holiday.

    Israel's national airline, El Al, has launched feeder flights, but there are a number of difficulties relating to the journey time, the requirement to collect baggage and transfer between terminals for the outbound trip.

    This year, Tel-Aviv-based Isram has arranged a small number of direct flights from the UK at peak times - October half-term, Christmas and Passover - with flights from Manchester for Christmas and Passover.

    Eilat, which was a favourite for British tourists wanting to take winter sunshine holidays, has seen tourism from the UK fall from a peak of 45,000 in 1997 to just 5,000 in 2003.

    Some of the decline is attributable to political factors, wars and ultra-cheap packages to Egypt's Red Sea resorts, where staff costs are a fraction of those in Eilat.

    But there is a widespread acceptance in the industry that a key factor in the fall was the difficulty of flying to Eilat following the gradual reduction of regular, direct flights.

    This is not the first time Thomson has offered Eilat packages from the UK.

    In 1998, it launched holidays to Eilat, which it subsequently withdrew, citing unrest in the region in the run-up to the second Gulf War.

    It did the same thing in December 2000, cutting short a winter 2000/2001 programme following a Foreign Office Advisory warning about the dangers of travelling in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

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