Normalization between Morocco and Israel hit a new milestone on Sunday with the inauguration of two new air routes from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Marrakech, operated by Israir and El Al.
The flights, which will take between 5.5 and six hours, will land at Menara Airport, six kilometers south of Marrakech. While there is currently one flight scheduled per week, the airlines hope to increase this number to five, contingent on demand. They will subsequently be joined by a regular El Al flight to Casablanca this September.
Israeli airline Arkia will also begin offering service to Morocco next Tuesday, while Moroccan national carrier Royal Air Maroc is expected to begin flying to Tel Aviv later this year.
A random check of prices online showed that a ticket for late September will cost $660 on El Al and $610 on Israir. While Israel has issued a coronavirus travel warning for the North African country, vaccinated travelers will only be required to isolate for 24 hours upon their return to Israel.
"We estimate that the demand will be high, and hundreds of thousands of passengers from Israel will visit the destination as part of vacation packages or organized trips,” Israir's vice president of marketing Gil Stav predicted in early June.
In March, Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui said she expects 200,000 Israeli visitors in the first year following the resumption of direct flights. That compares with about 13 million yearly total foreign tourists before the pandemic. Tourism revenue fell by 53.8 percent to 36.3 billion dirhams ($3.8 billion) in 2020.
Henri Abizker, a Jewish community leader and businessman in Rabat who owns a travel agency organizing tours for Israelis, said that he was even more optimistic about the numbers, predicting up to 400,000 would come.
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Israel and Morocco agreed in December to resume diplomatic ties and relaunch direct flights – part of a deal brokered by the United States that also includes Washington's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
David Govrin, the head of the Israeli liaison office in Rabat, which reopened after the deal, also said that “the number of Israeli tourists will increase significantly” with the opening of new air routes.
For centuries, Morocco was home to one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East until Israel's founding in 1948. As Jews fled or were expelled from many Arab countries, an estimated quarter of a million left Morocco for Israel from 1948-1964.
Today, only about 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco, while hundreds of thousands of Israelis claim some Moroccan ancestry.
More than other countries in the region where the issue is often taboo, Morocco has sought in recent years to recognize the Jewish role in its history. In 2010, it launched a program to restore synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and heritage sites, and reinstated the original names of some Jewish neighborhoods.