Ahead of the opening of a new airport, Madeleine Barber travels to Israel’s seaside capital Eilat with Monarch to discover what the legendary ‘Red Sea holiday’ can offer British travellers.
Floating in the turquoise water of the salt-rich Dead Sea, which is currently a bath-like 28C, I’ve never felt more at peace. The rich minerals have cast a silky glaze over my skin, and I can see why visitors flock here in their thousands to cure physical and mental ailments.
Not in need of a remedy myself, I have instead come to explore Israel’s seaside playground in anticipation of the Ramon International airport, which is slated to open towards the end of this year in Eilat on the south coast.
“In the 80s, Eilat was full with British tourists and I’m hoping that this new airport will bring it all back,” says Taal Goldman, who is on Ramon airport’s operational readiness team. As well as boosting potential for more UK flights, the plan is to increase visitors flying into Eilat from 1.4 million to 2 million at a time when the much-loved Red Sea holiday is in peril. With popular seaside resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh becoming no-go destinations for British travellers, Israel offers an accessible alternative.
However, it seems British travellers haven’t yet caught on. “Last year we only welcomed 5,000 tourists from London. They have paradise right here and they don’t know it!” says Yossi Chen, chief executive of the Eilat Municipal Tourism Corporation.
Currently, the only direct flights from the UK to Eilat are during the winter with Monarch Airlines, but in order to secure more, the city must first generate demand. Shabtai Shay, chief executive of the Eilat Hotel Association, explains: “Around 90% of tourists in Eilat are Israeli, but I think the key is to attract British tourists in winter – the Mediterranean just can’t compete with the Red Sea then.”
Shay has also worked with the British travel trade on fam trips and seminars to teach agents about the destination’s winter-sun appeal, so it should be working its way onto agents’ radars as a holiday option during Britain’s colder months.