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More US and European airlines will fly into Israel this year as part of the Tourism Ministry's plans to boost the number of annual tourist arrivals to 5 million by 2011, which also will include agreements with some of the world's largest tour operators.
The plan results from the findings of a national task force, commissioned by the ministry, aimed at outlining a strategy to continue the upward trend of tourism to Israel.
"The first thing we found is the need to make sure there was a sufficient number of seats available on flights to Israel, from Europe, the United States and South America," outgoing Tourism Minister and anticipated finance minister Avraham Hirchson said Sunday. "In this regard, we can expect additional companies to start flying from the US in the coming year."
Hirchson wouldn't elaborate on which companies the government was negotiating with in the US, but outlined significant deals the ministry was in the process of closing with a number of European companies.
Amongst these, the most noteworthy is German tour operator Thomas Cook, which will start marketing travel to Israel.
"After initial difficulties in getting them on board, we had meetings in Berlin just over a month ago and in the coming days we will sign an agreement whereby Thomas Cook will start to market Israel in a massive way," Hirchson said.
In addition, he said the ministry is about to complete a strategic deal with tour operator TUI where the company will operate 50 flights per week from different destinations in Europe to both Eilat and Tel Aviv, and with French charter airline Corsair, a subsidiary of TUI, to start a weekly flight to Tel Aviv.
Last year, the Tourism and Finance Ministries created a task force, headed by hotelier Miki Federman, to build on the 1.9 million tourists that came to Israel in 2005.
In addition to broadening the agreements with foreign airlines, the task force made suggestions in three other areas to advance the tourism industry. These included boosting investments in the basic tourism infrastructure, lifting obstacles to incoming and outgoing travel and providing professional marketing of Israel.
Some of the suggestions included increasing the number of hotel rooms in the country, carrying out renovations at the hotels and improving the level of service given in the industry through education programs and professional training in the industry.
In presenting the findings, Federman said the underlining goal was to increase the number of tourist arrivals, and promote the recognition of tourism as a leading growth engine and job creator in the economy.
As part of the program, the task force commissioned accounting firm Ernst and Young to conduct research on long-term marketing strategy. The findings also called for cooperation between the government and the industry, an increase in the ministry's budget and the advancement of local tourism.
Isaac Herzog has meanwhile been named as the Labor party's choice to take over from Hirchson as Tourism Minister in the next government.
Hirchson said he was confident Herzog would adopt all the suggestions made by the task force and bring encourage the growth of tourism.