An Etihad Airways plane carrying a delegation from the UAE on a first official visit, lands at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on October 20, 2020.
Etihad Airways already operates flights to Tel Aviv and Emirates will start from June. Increased flight frequencies will help immeasurably with Israel's ambitions to pull in 100,000 visitors from the UAE. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Israel wants more ‘two-way’ traffic with the UAE, with the initial target to attract about 100,000 visitors from the Gulf country.

“Not this year, because we just opened up and there’s a lot that needs to be done,” said Ksenia Kobiakov, New Markets Development Department Director, Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Israel has announced that all passengers from UAE can now travel to that country, with vaccinated and unvaccinated tourists of all ages able to enter upon presenting a negative PCR test before departure and after arrival. This follows an agreement between UAE and Israel extending visa-free entry to all UAE nationals.

“People had already started coming from last summer when we opened up for vaccinated passengers,” said Kobiakov. “For religious tourists, it really does not make a difference whether there’s a pandemic or not.”

The tourism official is relying on new markets such as UAE, Morocco and Bahrain to take Israel back to pre-Covid tourist numbers. Israel attracted over 4.5 million tourists in 2019 and Jerusalem, as per some estimates, was one of the fastest growing tourist markets in the world.

When it comes to UAE, Israel’s tourism body is already engaged in talks with major tour operators and plans to sign a few marketing agreements soon, said Kobiakov.

It is impossible for tourism to thrive without proper flight connections and, after a few initial hiccups, that seems to be back on track. Israeli carriers, which had briefly halted flights to Dubai, are back to flying at full schedule now, the tourism official confirmed.

Emirates airline will launch flights to Tel-Aviv from June 23, becoming the latest UAE airline to have Israel operations after flydubai and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways.

Tight competition

UAE offers easy flight connections to destinations such as Georgia, Maldives and Seychelles. This means Israel will have to step up its game to pull in visitors. Kobiakov doesn’t think that’s an issue. “Promoting Israel is easy as it’s a country that was not available before,” said the official. “We have nine climate zones within this tiny country, which means tourists can enjoy pleasant weather throughout the year."

Hotel deals

Hospitality is an area where Israel could benefit from UAE’s expertise. “There is a big interest from UAE to build new hotels in Israel and to invest in the tourism market. We see this is coming and, to an extent, this is already happening."

Russia-Ukraine fallout
After the US, Russia has traditionally been the biggest source market for Israel, and the ongoing-conflict in Ukraine will hit that. Sanctions imposed by US and EU countries on Russia will also severely limit travelers’ ability to make bookings and conduct payments.