Over Half a Million Israelis Taking Off for Foreign Shores, but El Al Down 5%

Over half a million Israelis will take off for foreign shores during September and October. Of those, some 60 percent will be heading for Western Europe, and the classic capital cities are still the most popular destinations: Paris, Rome and London.

Another 8 percent will relax around the eastern shores of the Mediterranean basin: Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus.

Destinations much further east are also quite popular: Hong Kong, Mumbai and Bangkok.

Beijing has seen the most dramatic growth in Israeli interest in the last year, doubling the number of tourists, according to figures reported by El Al in advance of the holiday vacation season.

Traffic to New York has grown 5 percent since the beginning of 2006, compared to last year, with 16,000 Israelis expected to visit the Big Apple during the holiday season.

Most of the travelers are families with children, or couples, and the average stay is two weeks.

El Al also reported that it has seen a 5 percent reduction in the number of passengers over the period compared to last year, with 90,000 scheduled to fly on its planes.

Israir has different numbers. It claims a 10 percent increase in reservations from last year. Israir thinks that this is a result of the Lebanon war, with Israelis making up now for the holidays that they canceled during the summer months.

There are three main types of vacations ordered during the holiday period according to Aviva Haviv, the head of marketing for the Natur and Unitel travel agency of the Israir group.

The three types are: Trips to nearby vacation regions, such as the Greek islands and Bulgaria; popular vacation destinations such as Italy or Thailand; and independent vacations in places such as Spain, Provence or Germany.

Some 230,000 tourists are expected to fly in the opposite direction (foreigners coming to visit Israel over the holidays) compared to over twice that many Israelis, some 520,000 who are leaving for vacations abroad.

Finally, ticket prices this year are higher than last year due to the increase in fuel prices and increased airport fees in several popular destinations.