El Al Israel Airlines this week made good on its promise to start direct flights to the west coast of the US as it attempts to counter increased competition on established routes to the States. The airline said Wednesday it would operate three direct flights per week to Los Angeles starting July 23, flying out of Tel Aviv on Sundays, Tuesday and Thursday, adding to the two indirect flights it operates to LA via Toronto. The airline will use its Boeing 777 on the 15-hour flight. The move comes as El Al faces stiffer competition this summer from new comers Israir on the New York route and Delta Airlines to Atlanta, and from its traditional rival to New York - Continental Airlines. El Al CEO Haim Romano told The Jerusalem Post earlier this year that it intended to launch the LA route and raise capacity on others in an attempt to reverse its loss of market share. The West Coast has become an attractive destination for Israeli businessmen and LA also is in a geographic location that gives access and connection to hundreds of other destinations, El Al said. Hotels remember the bad times Israel's hotel industry received a stern reminder of the difficult times it had been through over the last few years as the Central Bureau of Statistics released its 2003 earnings figures for the sector. With income of approximately NIS 4.2 billion and expenses (including salaries) of around NIS 3.9b., the hotel sector cleared a mere NIS 251m. in 2003 when the intifada was still having its negative impact on tourism to Israel. While that year showed a slight reversals of the downward trend, CBS drew comparisons to 2000 when the combined profits at the country's hotels reached NIS 712m., based on average 2005 prices. It estimated profits would grow to NIS 405m. for 2004 and NIS 652m. in 2005. While the hoteliers were among those who most felt the pinch of the economic impact of the Intifada, few in the tourism industry have voiced concerns that the recent increase in tension with the Palestinians would lead to a similar result. A spokesman for the Tourism Ministry said it has had no indication of cancellations and still expects to reach it s target of 2.5 million tourists by the end of the year. Foreign Airlines Association Chairman Avi Ella said tourists respond to high-scale terror attacks that claim large numbers of victims but that this had not been the case in the current crisis. B-G Airport increases passenger services As passengers continue to fly into Tel Aviv, with 2.25 million travelers expected to pass through Ben-Gurion Airport on 12,930 flights this summer, the Israel Airports Authority has updated its contact details available to passengers to gain information about arrival times, changes in flight schedules, their assigned area for the security check, the allotted counter for their flights. The IAA said this information can all be found on its Web site, www.iaa.gov.il, or through its information center by dialing (03) 975-5555 or *6663 - also in English - and its computerized answering service on (03) 972-3331. Arrival and take-off times are also available in real-time by sending an SMS to 9595. IAA has also opened its new "mother and child" room in Terminal 3 equipped with a bottle warmer, games, television, toys and related services to keep traveling children entertained while waiting for their flights. New Golan visitors center launched Adding to a list of attractions for tourists, a new visitors' center detailing available sites in the Golan Heights has been established at a cost of $1 million. Production company JCSID, a unit of Jerusalem Capital Studios, built the center for the Ramat HaGolan local Council giving visitors an hour-long virtual tour of the region. This includes a multi-sensory panoramic exhibit on an enormous round screen of 23.5 meters on an 85 sq.m. area. The display uses photography and screening with a stereo sound system and water, wind and fragrance machines to put across the center's theme that "the Golan offers a unique combination of untamed nature and advanced technology." Tour deals Tour operators turned their attention to Italy this week, offering a series of deals to Israelis planning vacations across the Mediterranean. Focusing on the Kosher market, Diesenhaus Unitours is offering kosher mehadrin packages to the north Italian village of Gabicce Mare in the Marche region, including seven nights full-board accommodation at the four-star Michelacci hotel, plus car rental and flights for â‚¬1,195 per person, or the same deal at the three-star Maromonti hotel for â‚¬933 per person. Both offers stand until July 25. Rimon Tours has also presented its family package to Tuscany for seven nights accommodation plus car rental and flights for $959 per person. Israir, is offering special deals for American travelers to Israel through the summer. The airline is offering one-way flights to Tel Aviv for $399 (excluding taxes), on July 17, 20 and 26, although regular rates apply for the return flight. Israir is also offering round trip from New York with six nights at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel with breakfast for $1,098, and a package for seven nights at the Tel Aviv Hilton for $1,699. Air France tests RFID baggage tracking Meanwhile, Air France and KLM have started using RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to label and track passenger baggage. In the initial trial period, the companies, which recently merged, will use the technology for luggage on flights between Paris and Amsterdam. Air France said it had launched the tests in the hope that the labels eventually will replace the existing barcode technology. RFID technology uses electronic tags for storing data and unlike barcodes do not need to be in line of site of a scanner for reading and can be tracked at varying distances. The system will allow the airlines to locate baggage in real time and provide passengers with more up-to-date information, Air France said.