How Open Skies Can Change Israel

It might mean the demise of El Al, but Open Skies can transform Israel’s relationship with Europe, sparking unprecedented waves of tourism from new sources, and as a result new cultural links with the world.

Three years ago, easyJet started flights from London to Tel Aviv. They since added flights from Geneva, Basel, and Manchester, in each case adding more and more flights to routes that already existed, operated by other airlines. From London, they have succeeded to capture over 20% of the market, and often charge higher fares than El Al and British Airways who have been flying between the cities for many years. Consumers are savvy, and in the age of the internet they can find lower fares, but what easyJet has done, is branded Tel Aviv as a low-cost destination, a city break destination, and a place that the average person should visit. And whilst many of the passengers flying on their aircraft might be the ‘traditional’ religious visitor to Israel, more and more independent travelers, non-religious tourists looking for another place to vacation. Israel has so much to offer, and the presence of Tel Aviv on the map of an airline such as easyJet has a great impact in promoting the destination.

The problem is, that as an airline registered in the UK and Switzerland, easyJet can only fly between Israel and those countries. They’ve been said to want to start flights from other major cities – Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and Berlin, but have been unable to.

Likewise, rumors and lately statements have come from Ryanair about flying to Israel. Some sources have stated that they wish to fly from 40 European cities to Tel Aviv. Ryanair traditionally like to open new routes. Cities like Dublin,  Bremen, Bologna, Oslo, Krakow, and Glasgow, are base cities for Ryanair – yet none have existing scheduled flights to Tel Aviv. Even flying only twice a week from each of the 40 cities that they might start to fly from, the airline would carry over 1.3 million people a year. If only 25% of this number represented incoming tourists, it would represent more than a 10% increase in tourism to Israel. And the tourists coming would be the same new breed of tourists who easyJet, Air Berlin, Germanwings, Wizz, Norweigan, and the other low-cost airlines who have started flying to Tel Aviv so far, have demonstrated are interested in the country.

On Tourist Israel, which is an information site for independent tourists visiting Israel, we can feel the growing numbers of independent tourists who have no historical connection to Israel. They are looking to experience this country in their own individual way, whether it be the nightlife of Tel Aviv, hiking in the Galilee, or a retreat in the Negev. They are planning their own trips and staying anywhere from Israel’s new wave of top-notch backpacker hostels, to boutique hotels, and zimmers. They are all unique, all want their own experience, and all see Israel as a destination in the same way Spain, Germany, or France is a destination.

Many people don’t believe that these independent tourists exist. They do. Many people don’t believe that Israel doesn’t really have an attraction to the average European tourist. It does. The issue is that not enough are able to come, whether it be because the air fares are too high, whether it be because there is a lack of flights from their region, or whether it be because they see Israel as a ‘way out’ destination.

Open Skies will inevitably change this, and change the face of El Al. For sure, Israel is better with her own airline. But Israel is better still with affordable flights which cover the whole of Europe. If an Israeli airline can launch them and compete, it’s great. That’s the point of Open Skies. If not, European airlines will carry the weight. But the gain will be seen by the Israeli tourism industry who will be able to work with unprecedented numbers of new visitors to the country, and the Israeli population who will be able to travel more widely and freely than ever before.

About the Author
Ben Julius is the founder of Tourist Israel, Israel's largest travel website.