El Al has announced it is to operate three daily flights in each direction between Ben Gurion and Eilat, commencing in March.
The airline, which ceased direct flights between the UK and Eilat in 2007, is adding the internal flights to improve access to Israel’s Red Sea resort for visitors flying in to Israel from Britain and other, mainly European, destinations.
Until this season, when Eilat’s leading hotelier Isrotel launched its own direct flights between Luton and Eilat – branded as the Isrotel Sun Express – the resort has not been regularly served by direct flights from the UK since March 2007.
Passengers wishing to fly to Eilat from the UK had to do so via Ben Gurion, switching planes and arriving in Eilat late at night.
For the return leg, if they wished to check in their baggage in Eilat City, only one flight to Ben Gurion was available to them: departing at around 7am to connect with the morning flight to London.
The timings effectively wiped two days off a holiday, and is believed to have contributed to a steep decline in visitor numbers from the UK to Eilat. These fell from 45,000 in 1997, to 5,000 in 2003, when the Iraq War started.
That figure barely recovered to 6,000 in 2004, and in 2008, with Eilat holidays hit by the credit crunch and images of the Gaza conflict, the number of UK visitors to Eilat fell back to 2003 levels.
The JC understands that the mayor of Eilat, Meir Yitzhak Halevi as well as senior figures in Eilat tourism, have lobbied the ICAA and the Tourism Minister, Israel Katz, for improved links between the gateway airport and Eilat amid the realisation that if potential visitors have to endure lengthy and inconvenient journeys they will simply choose to go elsewhere.
Charlene Blake, manager of El Al’s Superstar Holidays – which, ironically, has been hit as badly as other operators by the flight issue – welcomed the move: “We have been waiting for this for a long time and will be a tremendous boost for the destination.”