Tourism revenue accounted for a NIS 40 billion ($11.5 billion) share of the economy. (Ziv Reinstein)
Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air will begin offering flights from Tel Aviv to Prague in late March, with prices starting at €59.99 ($82) for a one-way ticket.
The new route will be operated starting March 31, and will include three weekly flights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, on an Airbus A320 aircraft.
Wizz Air Corporate Communications Manager Daniel de Carvalho says the company has “brought great news to hundreds of thousands of Israelis visiting the Czech Republic every year.”
He added that Israel was one of the airline’s greatest successes recently. “Considering the fact that we started off in Israel in December 2012, today we have nine routes together with the new route to Prague.”
The biggest low-cost airline in central and eastern Europe, Wizz Air has a fleet of 45 Airbus A320 planes and it offers more than 280 routes from 19 , connecting 90 destinations across 35 countries.
El Al Israel Airlines recently launched its low-cost brand, UP, which offers flights to Prague for $69 for a one-way ticket. Both El Al and Wizz Air’s prices do not include luggage, seat booking and food.
A German tourist known at home as Grandma Ella plans to celebrate her 104th birthday at Israel’s Dead Sea on Tuesday.
Eleonore Kastner, who was born in 1910, is vacationing with some 40 friends and family in the Holy Land.
Four years ago, when Kastner turned 100, she decided to “live a little” and celebrate her birthday in a different place each year, Israeli Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Lydia Weitzman said.
After visiting the Vatican, Monaco, Austria and Munich, this year she has chosen Israel, specifically the Dead Sea as the lowest place on Earth.
“Many greetings from the Dead Sea,” the robust Kastner, who is also known one of the world’s oldest Facebook users, said in footage posted on the social media site.
Weitzman said she was possibly the oldest German tourist ever to visit Israel.
The Tourism Ministry will present her with a gift on her birthday – a silver-bound Bible, she said.
The website, which is still under construction, is being organized by Israeli Christian and former IDF Captain Bishara Shlayan, a merchant seaman from Nazareth who has become outspoken new leader of the Israeli Christian community seeking to build Jewish-Christian ties. Shlayan is also leading efforts to form a new Israeli-Arab Christian political party called B’nei Habrit and to build a 100-foot statue of Jesus in Nazareth.
“The site will symbolize the attraction of the global Christian community to the city of Nazareth and the support of the world community to the Christian communities in Israel,” the website says.
The low-cost flight market is heating up: easyJet plans to introduce a new route from Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris starting in summer 2014, offering six weekly flights.
This will be the ninth route operated by the British airline to and from Israel, and it joins four new routes launched in the past few months to Rome, Berlin, Milan and Gatwick Airport near London. The company also offers flights to Tel Aviv from Basel, Geneva, Manchester and London Luton Airport.
easyJet said in a statement that the new routes are the direct result of the Open Skies agreement signed between Israel and the European Union. According to the company’s UK and Middle East Commercial Manager Hugh Aitken, easyJet plans to expand its activity from Israel to any destination offering financial profitability.
Indeed, there appears to be a flood of new routes launched by low-cost European countries, as well as additional flights offered by traditional regular airlines like Lufthansa and Alitalia.
In July, Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air announced new routes from Israel to Vilnius (two weekly flights), Katowice (three flights) and Cluj-Napoca (two flights); in September, easyJet announced a new route to Rome with two weekly flights; and in late November, El Al launched its low-cost UP brand, offering flights to five destinations in Europe: Berlin, Larnaca, Kiev, Prague and Budapest.
And that’s not all. In the past month easyJet launched a new route to London Gatwick Airport and a route to Milan (three weekly flights each), Lufthansa added three weekly flights to Munich and three flights to Frankfurt, Wizz Air introduced a route to Sofia (three flights) and Alitalia added three weekly flights to Rome.
Why is this happening? For several reasons:
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Director Giora Romm, who oversaw the signing of the Open Skies agreement between Israel and the EU, says that “the agreement is based on stages, and so from the moment of the signing the number of flights between Israel and EU countries can be increased.
“As for major destinations like London and Paris, up to seven weekly flights can be added at this stage. As for flights to new destinations, a large number of flights can be added and so companies are already announcing new routes for the summer of 2014.”
According to Romm, European destinations will see an addition of 43 flights this summer, a 10% increase.
Israir CEO Uri Sirkis believes that Israeli airlines will be forced to merge in order to survive. “The reform is eroding the income per passenger. Companies will have to make ownership changes, merge or disappear. It’s safe to assume that we will see mergers between companies in Israel.”
The Open Skies agreement, he says, offers a great advantage for consumers, but a smaller advantage for Israeli companies.
Asked how the low-cost airlines affect Israir’s activity, Sirkis says the company is reducing the number of flights to Rome and Berlin and will offer flights to Stuttgart and Munich instead for Black Forest visitors.
“At the same time, we will move to destinations with less competition, like Lisbon and Tbilisi, and in the summer will have special offers for families to fly to Amsterdam and return from Paris, or the other way around.”