Competition for routes between Israel and Asia is heating up: Sichuan Airlines inaugurated its first flight between Tel Aviv and the Chinese city of Chengdu on Wednesday and Air India is weighing adding a Tel Aviv-Mumbai fight to its schedule.
Sichuan Airlines is offering fares at $599 in economy class on two weekly flights between Tel Aviv and the capital of Sichuan province with follow-on flights at no extra charge for a limited period to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Sichuan is the third Chinese airline to serve routes between China and Israel following Cathay Pacific and Hainan Airlines amid a sharp rise in Chinese tourism to Israel. Earlier this week Israel’s Tourism Ministry said the number of Chinese tourists jumped 30% in August from the same time in 2017 to 8,700.
The importance of Chinese tourism was illustrated by the fanfare surrounding Sichuan’s inaugural landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport, with Tourism Minster Yariv Levin attending a ceremony.
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“The number of Chinese tourists will grow with the opening of these new routes and we are also counting on Israeli tourists to discover Sichuan and all it has to offer,” said Gideon Thaler, the president of TAL Aviation, which represents Sichuan Airlines in Israel.
Meanwhile, a Tourism Ministry source said Air India would initially charge $250 each way on the Tel Aviv-Mumbai route and was weighing boosting the number of flights on its Tel Aviv-Delhi run to five a week.
Air India launched Israel flights in March, upsetting the monopoly of Israel’s El Al Airlines, in particular because the Indian carrier got permission to fly over Saudi Arabia, cutting its flight time and costs. The new Mumbai route will take just five hours, versus eight for the El Al flight.