Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Mon November 30 2015

Israel Attracts More Russians as an Alternative to Egypt and Turkey

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | November 30, 2015

Israel Attracts More Russians as an Alternative to Egypt and Turkey

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Tourists from Russia have lost two of their favorite destinations. In 2014, 3.3 million Russian tourists went to Turkey. After the downing of a Russian military jet by Turkish artillery, the country has basically become off-limits. The same goes for Egypt, which has been deemed unsafe by Moscow after the midair bombing of a Russian airliner earlier this fall. Egypt saw 2.6 million Russian visitors in 2014. 

A need for alternative destinations

If both of these Middle Eastern countries remain no-go zones, it will mean that nearly six million people will be looking for somewhere else to travel next year. Snowbird season is just starting in Northern Europe, so the effect of these travel bans will be evident almost immediately. Even if they haven’t booked, many have already planned to visit either Egypt or Turkey this winter. 

Israel is one of the most obvious alternatives for these travelers. The country is already popular with Russians; over 500,000 visited last year. The Red Sea resort town of Eilat is making a promotional push to bring more tourists from Russia. This is not merely an increase in advertising. Airlines are actually planning on offering more flights between Northeastern Europe and Israel in the coming months. 

More airlines and more incentives

Vacation-centric carrier Nordwind Airlines will be offering more than 70 weekly flights into Eilat from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and several other Russian cities. Ryanair, meanwhile, will increase service to Eilat from Poland and Lithuania. Israel’s tourism minister, Yariv Levin, thinks that Ryanair’s entry into the market is a sign of better things to come: "the arrival of Ryanair in Israel proves to us all that it is possible to bring the largest airlines into Israel and, with them, many tourists."

The current geopolitical situation is one of the main reasons for this new focus on Eilat. However, the real draws as far as airlines are concerned are the incentives offered by Israel. The Tourism Ministry is currently giving carriers who fly into Eilat’s Ovdah Airport a 45 Euro rebate per passenger. This means that airlines like Nordwind can offer cheaper flights and still make a profit. 

Short-term surge, long-term ambitions

Eilat is not just taking advantage of the Russian bans on travel to Turkey and Egypt for short-term profits. The city has many of the same water sports that people come to the Sinai and Turkish Med to enjoy. Kite surfing and scuba diving are on the agenda here. A large underwater tower, called the Underwater Observatory, gives tourists a chance to see the Red Sea’s marine life without having to strap on an oxygen tank. The Negev Desert borders the city, so there are inland adventure sports on offer as well. Furthermore, this is a popular domestic destination, so the hotel infrastructure is already in place.  

Israel has a chance to introduce its beach destination to Russian tourists this winter. The increased number of flights might not be a permanent thing, but Israel does seem confident that it can use this opportunity to get a larger share of the regional market, especially when it comes to winter travel.  

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