El Al and Continental Airlines unveiled their newest weapons last week in the escalating arms race over business travelers. Continental's Israel CEO, Avi Friedman, started the week off with a look at the latest service his airline is offering to Continental BusinessFirst travelers flying in the company's D and J business sections to Newark Airport: For an average ticket price of $3,500, passengers get a "free" eight-minute helicopter flight between the airline's New Jersey hub and Manhattan, where they can land at helipads located near Wall Street and on East 34th street. The service, which runs Monday through Friday and began last week, allows passengers returning to Israel to complete check-in and security inspections in Manhattan before their flight to Newark, allowing them to bypass further checks once they've arrived at the New Jersey airport. Operated in partnership with US Helicopter, the service is offered to all Continental BusinessFirst passengers flying between Newark and Europe, New Delhi and Tel Aviv, and is being packaged as part of the "premium" treatment Continental provides business travelers at its airport lounges and through its gourmet menu and wine and champagne offerings. Business passengers looking to pay a slightly reduced fare of $3,200 can still fly in the airline's BusinessFirst section - they just aren't entitled to helicopter flights between Newark and Manhattan. El Al, meanwhile, spent last week showing off its latest marketing campaign, a $1.5 million effort that's already hit TV screens and will soon be appearing online and in print. The campaign, part of the company's "Strategy 2010," seeks to highlight the company's own "premium" services, part of a new brand identity trumpeting El Al as a luxury flying "experience," particularly for its first and business class passengers. Officials for both airlines claim to be deeply concerned about the comfort and satisfaction of economy travelers as well, of course, but point to significantly higher profit margins as the deciding factor in the move to focus promotional efforts on business class. Delta, which will open its own route between Tel Aviv and the New York area next March, might be wise to take note. FROM RUSSIA, WITH MONEY The Tourism and Interior Ministries are looking to siphon off a bit of the tourist traffic heading from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East. The two teamed up earlier this year to make it easier for travelers from the former USSR to pay one-day visits to Israel, in hopes that the in-and-out trips might lead to more long-term visits from residents of the region. Citizens of the FSU log an estimated four million trips to the Middle East annually, reports the Tourism Ministry, with some two million traveling to Turkey and another one million flying to Egypt. Israel, meanwhile, is getting thoroughly walloped even by Cyprus, attracting 100,000 FSU visitors each year compared to the Mediterranean island's 800,000. The new partnership between the two ministries went into action in February of this year, and so far has brought an extra 24,355 visitors to Israel, mostly by FSU citizens crossing into the country from Sinai. The Tourism Ministry, pleased with the results so far, has pledged to step up its efforts, noting that every 100,000 additional tourists entering Israel represents 4,000 new jobs and $100 million in income. OVERALL VISITS UP SLIGHTLY IN JUNE Visitor numbers to Israel edged up slightly overall in June, with 180,000 tourists crossing into the country by air, land and sea. That marks a one percent increase over the same month the previous year, when just under 175,000 travelers arrived. As the small increase suggests, the number of entries by air - by far the most popular route of entry - stayed fairly stable. Making the biggest jump, meanwhile, was the number of entries by land, which rose 32% overall and even more at the border with Sinai, where more crossings by Poles and FSU citizens drove up the number of arrivals from Taba by an estimated 60%.