Business travel to Israel took the spotlight this week at the "Business Travel 2006" conference in Tel Aviv as the country gears itself up to provide the right services to cater to that sector. "There has been a growing interest in doing business in Israel for the last 10 years, which intensified over the last 18 months and peaked with the Warren Buffett investment in Iscar Corporation," said Boaz Waksman, Chairman of Ophir Tours, which hosted the conference. "There is a general positive atmosphere now and we need to ensure that we are providing the right services to the business community." Ophir Tours said 28 percent of its activities are in the business travel market and it expects an increase of 12% in 2006. This would bring Ophir in line with global levels according to research by US-based Carlson Wagonlit Travel, which showed that 40% of the entire global travel market is taken by the business sector, which generated $520 billion in revenues last year. In an attempt to leverage growth in the market, Ophir Tours has teamed up with Carlson Wagonlit, whose core activity is in business travel. The partnership, Waksman explained, places Ophir Tours on the Wagonlit network and under its branding, giving its business travelers to Israel access to the company\s benefits. CNN also takes note The heightened interest in Israeli business, and in particular Warren Buffett's new interests here, also sparked CNN's interest as the news network focused on Israel in this month's edition of its Business Traveler program hosted by Richard Quest. The program, entitled "Doing Business in Israel," will air through June. In addition to exploring the success of the hi-tech industry in Israel and the opportunities it presents, the program takes viewers to popular tourist spots they could visit on their day off from business. The program will air again this week on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. BA takes top honors With its strong emphasis on business travel, British Airways was named "Airline of the Year" for 2006 in the World Airline Awards held by Skytrax, a research advisory for the airline industry. BA, which also took top honors as the best business class section for its "Club World" product, bested Continental Airlines, which came in second, followed by Cathay Pacific Airways in third. Thai Airways and Emirates completed the top five in fourth and fifth places, respectively. Hotel business on the rise Meanwhile, Israeli businesses continue to benefit from the growth in tourism. Revenues generated by the hotel industry rose 24 percent to NIS 1.3b. in the first quarter of the year, compared to the parallel quarter of 2005, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Wednesday. Revenues from foreign tourist bookings rose 42% to NIS 565 million, in line with the 39% rise in tourist overnight stays during the quarter. Israeli bookings generated NIS 757m., CBS said, noting that these bookings were not exempt from VAT, as tourist bookings are. Jerusalem took 39% of the slice this year, up from 36% in 2005, while hotels in Eilat and the Dead Sea generated a combined 34% of the revenues, down from 36% last year. Hotel prices rose 13% from the last year period, CBS said. The growth also filtered to human resources as 23,000 people were employed in the hotel industry in the quarter, representing growth of 13% from last year. The average salary was NIS 5,400. Turkey still in favor with Israelis In addition to the growth in local hotel bookings, Israelis continue to travel abroad with Turkey being the most popular destination through the summer months. Online tour operator Gulliver said that according to bookings it has taken, Turkey remains the hot destination for Israelis, particularly among families taking a trip abroad. Other places on its most popular list include Northern Italy, the United States, Paris, Greece, Cyprus, Barcelona and Berlin. Some cool connections Taking advantage of this trend, Turkish Airlines is offering a roundtrip flight to Istanbul for $142 (excluding taxes and surcharges). The deal is valid until the end of September for a minimum three day stay. Bookings can only be made through a travel agent. Following a survey it conducted asking its Israeli passengers what their favorite European destinations are, Lufthansa is offering a roundtrip flight to any of the top 10 destinations for $333 (including taxes). Some 50,000 people took part in the survey, which chose Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Venice, Prague, Dublin, Florence, Munich and Oslo as the cities they would most like the cheaper fare to apply to. To get the deal, bookings to any of these destinations should be made between June 13 and June 27 for flights between June 21 and August 31. With the "official" start of summer in July, El Al is offering a 25% discount for children below age 18 on flights to Europe in July and the same discount for passengers younger than 26 to the US in July and August. El Al also said it is showing highlights of World Cup games on all flights through the duration of the soccer tournament.