Newly appointed Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich continued his first official tour of the country Wednesday, following up a late March tour of Jerusalem with a stop in another of the country's most religiously significant cities: Nazareth. Arriving in the city three days after Easter, Aharonovich said his visit was intended to underline Israel's commitment to Christian visitors and to Nazareth as one of the country's vital tourist attractions. During his tour, Aharonovich offered a "blessing" on behalf of the Jewish state's Christian population and said he intended to help Nazareth improve its tourism offerings during his tenure in the cabinet. The minister was greeted during the visit by Nazareth Mayor Ramez Jaraisah, with whom Aharonovich has maintained political ties since well before he entered the Knesset with Israel Beiteinu last year. Aharonovich's predecessor Isaac Herzog paid his last visit to Nazareth in an official capacity in December 2006, attending Christmas Eve mass at the city's Basilica of the Annunciation. A center of Christianity from the days of Jesus, Nazareth is now a Muslim-majority city, with Muslims making up roughly two-thirds of the city's 74,000-strong population. Nazareth's once-thriving tourism industry was hit hard during the second intifada when visits by both Christians from abroad and Jewish Israelis sharply declined. A dubious honor for El Al When it comes to the legal sound barrier imposed on flights taking off from Ben-Gurion Airport, El Al can claim the dubious honor of having broken the law more times than any other airline operating in Israel in 2006. Some 222 El Al take-offs exceeded the legal sound barrier last year, accounting for 44.5 percent of the 499 such transgressions. The Israel Airports Authority reported this week that 1.3% of all take-offs in Israel broke the legal sound barrier in 2006, a proportion exactly even with the previous year. The Israel Air Force was responsible for the second highest number of excessively loud take-offs in 2006, breaking the legal sound barrier 194 times. The previous year, air force officers soared over the sound barrier more often than any other pilots in Israel - excessively loud IAF take-offs accounted for 49% of the total in 2005 but dropped to 38.9% the following year. The majority of El Al's too-loud take-offs were created by its 747 fleet, which far outproduced the noise created by the 19 other commercial flight companies operating in Israel. Baltic tourism takes off The numbers remain small, but they're clearly on the rise. Israel and the Baltic republics traded more visitors in 2006 than in any previous year, according to Border Police data released recently by the Tourism Ministry. Latvia trumped its Baltic counterparts by sending 4,251 tourists to Israel, growth of 41% from 2005, while tourism from Lithuania expanded to 28% to a total of 3,338 visitors, up from just over 2,600 the year before. The rise in incoming travelers from the Baltic states is likely attributable at least in part to the start of non-stop flights between Riga, Latvia and Tel Aviv, which airBaltic Airlines began operating in June 2006. What goes up... The annual post-Pessah drop in hotel prices is operating in full force in 2007, with travel Web site www.gulliver.co.il reporting a decrease of as much as 50% at hotels recently filled to capacity for the late-spring holiday. Hotels and other lodging in popular Pessah destinations including Eilat and the Dead Sea are drastically dropping prices between now and the end of the academic year, with prices expected to rise once again beginning in June. Hotel and bed-and-breakfast stays are cheaper throughout the country, Gulliver reports, with overnight lodging an average of 30% less expensive after the holiday than during Pessah. Independence Day trips outside Israel Meanwhile, Gulliver is joining other travel agencies in encouraging Israelis to celebrate their national independence with trips outside the country. Gulliver and budget travel agency Issta have both announced a new set of package deals timed to coincide with Independence Day, which this year falls on Monday, April 24. Issta's deals include flights and hotel stays across Europe and in New York, while Gulliver's Independence Day packages are focused on southern Europe and Turkey.