Travel Trends: Non-stop service to begin to Seoul

Tourism Minister Aharonivich: Deal with South Korea is an expression of faith in Israel.

seoul palace 88 (photo credit: )
seoul palace 88
(photo credit: )
Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich returned from an unusually productive trip last week, announcing new deals his office had signed with Korean Airlines and JTB, Japan's largest travel agency. As part of the first deal, South Korea's national carrier agreed to renew service to Ben-Gurion Airport after a 10-year lapse, with the airline set to offer three non-stop flights each week between Seoul and Tel Aviv beginning in April. Tickets for those flights go on sale this week. Calling the deal "an expression of faith in Israel as a tourist destination," Aharonovich announced the new flights following meetings with the airline's president and with Kim Jong-Min, the South Korean tourism minister. Aharonovich's office estimates that the renewal of the flights will double the number of South Korean visitors to Israel within the next few years. That number currently stands at 30,000 annually, making South Korea the largest source of tourists to Israel in East Asia, which has delivered between 90,000 and 100,000 tourists to the Jewish state in each of the last several years. The new Korean Airlines flights are also expected to increase traffic to Israel from Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines, where interest in Israel runs high because of large Christian populations. The region's rapidly growing economies are also considered a likely boost to tourism to Israel, with increasingly affluent East Asian travelers expected to comprise a quarter of international tourists by 2020. Also giving his support to the Korean Airlines flights was Takashi Sasaki, the head of Japan's JTB travel agency, which will begin marketing packages to Israel in October. Meeting with Aharonovich in Tokyo, Sasaki pledged to lobby the Japanese government to facilitate the start of non-stop flights between Tel Aviv and the Japanese capital, adding that the Korean Airlines flights from Seoul would increase Japanese tourism to Israel in the meantime. Representatives of JTB will join additional member of Japan's tourism industry for a visit to Israel before the start of the marketing campaign, which marks the first time in five years that JTB will promote Israel to customers. Aharonovich and his ministry's general-director, Shaul Zemach, have begun working to get the visit covered in the Japanese media, calling the deal with JTB a "first step" toward tapping into the "huge potential" market of Japanese travelers to Israel. While the new flights from Korea are welcome news for tourism industry workers here, they present a new challenge for El Al, which has enjoyed a monopoly in recent years on non-stop service between Israel and East Asia. The airline, which serves Bombay, Beijing, Bangkok and Hong Kong, has heavily promoted the addition of two new Boeing 777s to its fleet this summer, with the two jets scheduled to fly to long-haul destinations including those in Asia. Korean Airlines will fly its own 777s between Tel Aviv and Seoul, offering connecting flights to a long list of cities in the Far East. Air France unveils prices for fall and winter Travelers flying in the opposite direction this fall and winter now have a price list from Air France to consider. The airline published fares to the United States and other destinations on its Israel Web site ( last week, offering $888 tickets to New York for those flying in October and booking their flights by August 31. Other round-trip flights to the United States in October include Boston and Miami (both $893), as well as Los Angeles ($983). Tickets to the same cities are offered at slightly discounted prices for round trips taking place between November 1 and next March. The fares include taxes and other fees but are, naturally, subject to certain conditions. El Al, Lufthansa offer new kosher dining options Extra leg room can be nice, but sometimes all a world traveler really wants is a plastic action figure. El Al announced last week that it was stepping in to fill the void, offering the toys as part of its newest dining option for flights out of Tel Aviv. The figures will come with new onboard McDonald's Happy Meals for child travelers, which also feature potato wedges, fresh vegetables and Chicken McNuggets. The meals, which are kosher and available at no extra charge, must be ordered in advance via the booking agent, El Al's call center or the airline's Web site. Lufthansa, meanwhile, is offering new kosher meals for travelers departing on flights to Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf from the New York area's John F. Kennedy and Newark Airports. Selected after a six-month trial, the meals join the airline's kosher offerings out of Israel, which are certified Glatt kosher by the Badatz of the Eda Haredit of Jerusalem, or by the Rabbinate of Ben-Gurion Airport. Lufthansa has also upgraded its kosher meals for all flights departing from the company's Frankfurt hub (from which the airline offers non-stop flights to Tel Aviv). Those meals are offered under the supervision of Rabbi Menachem Halevy Klein, who monitors their preparation at Frankfurt Airport.