Gov't Offers Funding to Airlines That Open New Routes to Israel

Fifty-million shekel program aims to boost travel as industry struggles to recovery from 2014 Gaza war.

An El Al plane on the tarmac at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Daniel Bar-On

Israel’s Tourism Ministry is launching a campaign this week to coax foreign airlines into opening new routes to Israel by offering each of them hundreds of thousands of shekels toward mounting ad campaigns for travel to Israel.

The initiative has a budget of 50 million shekels ($13.25 million), but tourism officials are convinced that the money could bring in another 500,000 tourists to Israel annually, a major addition to the 3.1 million who came to Israel last year.

“We have already begun contacts with three companies in the market that have expressed an interest in hearing about the proposal and the working assumption is that if they are interested, others will be interested, too,” the ministry said in a statement.

The campaign comes as Israel struggles to lure back tourists after Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, which led some airlines to suspend service. Recession in Russia, which has emerged as a major source of foreign tourism for Israel, and the wave of stabbing attacks that broke out last October have also weighed on the tourism industry.

In the first quarter, tourist arrivals reached 593,000, unchanged from a year ago but down 17% from the same time in 2014 before Protective Edge.

The new program goes into effect November 1 for one year. Airlines that qualify must guarantee they will operate routes with aircraft having places for at least 145 passengers, and can get as much as 3 million euros ($3.4 million) if they operate routes to multiple destinations, the ministry said.

In its proposal, the ministry selected 39 departure points it believes have potential as tourism markets for Israel. But airlines aren’t restricted to the list so long as the departing airport is at least 120 kilometers from one already serving the Israeli market, a distance that should prevent new routes from taking away passengers from existing ones.

The list includes Shanghai, Bristol in the U.K., three cities in Germany, Belfast in Northern Ireland, and cities in Norway and Poland. The subsidized campaigns have to be directed at foreign tourists, not at Israelis flying abroad.

Carriers that only want to run seasonal winter flights must commit to a season of at least 19 weeks. Carriers operating one weekly flight will be entitled to aid of 100,000 euros and those flying two flights double that.