Royal Jordanian to increase flights to Tel Aviv The Civil Aviation Authority said Wednesday it granted permission to Royal Jordanian Airlines to increase the number of flights it operates to Tel Aviv. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told the airline it could expand its cargo operations to Tel Aviv to three weekly flights from two at a meeting between Israeli and Jordanian airline officials in Akaba. In return, Israeli airlines now will be able to begin operating cargo flights to Jordan. The permit follows the QIZ agreement signed between Israeli and Jordanian officials this week, which is expected to boost trade between the two countries. The Jordanians also requested from Mofaz to increase its scheduled passenger flights to Tel Aviv. It currently operates 12 flights a week while Arkia Israel Airlines flies the route twice a week. The Transportation Ministry said that some 65,000 passengers traveled between Tel Aviv and Jordan in 2006 and that 90 percent of Israelis flying to Amman are enroute to the far East and the Persian Gulf. Airport launches Arabic Web site In an effort to strengthen relations with Arab passengers using Israeli terminals, the Israel Airports Authority launched an Arabic version of its Web site this week at an investment of NIS 500,000. The IAA said the site would provide general information from the authority including updates on flight information applicable to passengers flying in and out of Tel Aviv. The site provides data about landing and take-off times, airport services, processes at the airport and passenger procedure maps, as well as information about destinations, transfers, prices and sales offices, the IAA said. The new Arabic site can be found as a link on the Hebrew home page www.iaa.gov.il along with the English version. The IAA said the sites provide links to 45 Web sites covering the different ports in Israel, which get approximately 500,000 visitors per month. 18,000 tourists to make X-Mass pilgrimage The Tourism Ministry said it expects 18,000 tourists and pilgrims to travel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas and has pledged to provide free transportation between the two cities for the celebrations on December 24 and 25. Shuttles will run every half hour from the Gilo junction in Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem from noon on the 24th through to midday Christmas Day, the ministry said. "Free access to Bethlehem and holy places tops Israel's agenda," Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said. "Beyond our desire to ensure smooth passage for tourists, we are also cognizant of the importance of tourism to Bethlehem and the Palestinian economy and are cooperating with the Palestinian private sector." The ministry said approximately 450,000 crossings of Christian pilgrims were registered between Jerusalem and Bethlehem this year. Following a tour of the area Wednesday, Herzog allocated an initial NIS 500,000 to upgrade the crossing between Jerusalem and Bethlehem to improve tourist access, the ministry added. Hotel revenues down 6% in Q3 Once again the war in Lebanon proved to be the spanner in the works for the hotel industry, as it was reported that revenues from combined Israeli and tourist bookings were NIS 1.8b. in the third quarter of 2006, dropping 6.2% from the parallel three months last year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Following the strong tourism numbers in the first half of the year, however, the industry has still earned 10% more than last year as hotels raked in NIS 5 billion in the first nine months of the year. Hotel revenues had grown 20.5% to NIS 3.2b. in the first half. Yet, while sales to tourists had risen 37.5% in the first six months, their contribution in the third quarter plunged by 28% when compared to the parallel 2005 periods. Nevertheless, revenues from tourist bookings rose 11% for the nine month period to NIS 1.9b., its highest level since 2000, the all-time peak year for tourism, despite being 28% lower than the revenues generated in that year. Compared to 2000, total hotel revenues were 7% lower between January and September this year while the contribution from Israelis rose 12%. With revenues of NIS 1.3b., Eilat raked in the most for the nine months while Jerusalem hotels showed the biggest growth of 23.5% to NIS 874.6 million for the period. CBS said that approximately 25,000 workers were employed in the hotel industry from January to September, showing growth of 7% over last year. They earning an average salary of around NIS 5,500. Air Madrid suspends operations Air Madrid stopped operations this week, including its three flights a week to Israel, after the Spanish Development Ministry took measures which could lead to the carrier's license being permanently suspended. The airline said it has instructed its lawyers to start legal action against the ministry claiming that it meets the requirements for its licenses to remain in effect. The charter airline started flying to Tel Aviv this year having received financial guarantees from the Government before starting its operations here.