Israel Sees Chance to Draw Russian Tourists From Egypt, Turkey


Hotels sit along the seafront in Tel Aviv Israel.

Photographer: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg
  • Tourism ministry offers airlines incentives for Eilat flights
  • `Once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity for Israeli tourism: Agent

Israel is campaigning to lure more Russian vacationers after the downing of Russian aircraft in Egypt and by the Turkish military knocked out two main competitors for the tourist ruble.

While Russia accounts for 17 percent of tourism to Israel, second only to the U.S., the 567,000 visitors in 2014 pales in comparison to about 3.3 million who went to Turkey and 2.6 million to Egypt, both offering less expensive seaside destinations. Israel is trying to leverage Russia’s troubles with Egypt and Turkey by offering discounted flights to Eilat, its competing resort town on the Red Sea. Thousands of Russians have already signed up.

“We had already boosted our marketing efforts in Russia over the past two weeks” and will be adding an additional 10 million shekels ($2.6 million) to the campaign following the Russia-Turkey frictions, said Michal Gerstler, a Tourism Ministry spokeswoman. “Israel could serve as a good vacation alternative to Sinai and Turkey for the Russians, with our similar weather, appropriate accommodations and comparable distances.’’

Israel hopes its campaign to attract Russian visitors will boost tourism figures that were down 13 percent in the first half of 2015 from a year earlier, a lingering effect of its war in the Gaza Strip last year. Tourism and recreation is a major industry for Israel, accounting for about 7 percent of gross domestic product.

Russian tourism to Egypt has dried up since President Vladimir Putin canceled all flights there following the Oct. 31 explosion of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai peninsula, which killed 224 people in a suspected bombing. This week, the Russian government called on its citizens to cancel vacations in Turkey after Turkish missiles shot down a Russian fighter jet in Syria.

To draw Russian tourists to Eilat, the Tourism Ministry is offering a rebate of 45 euros per passenger to European carriers flying into Ovdah airport. The incentive has already encouraged two Russian tour operators to redirect vacationers from Sinai, the ministry said. About 200 new flights to Eilat from Russia during the winter season were added this week, according to the Tourism Ministry.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Israeli tourism,” says Galit Shaked Rubin, product manager in the Tel Aviv office of Pegas, a Russian tour operator. “If we can expose a lot more Russians to the attractions here over this winter season, it could generate a permanent boost for years to come.”

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