The conflict in Gaza, which began following the incursion of Hamas fighters into Israeli territory on October 7, 2023, has dramatically changed the travel and tourism sectors in Israel. After the initial attack, almost all foreign airlines stopped serving Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV).
The Israeli travel market has become akin to a monopoly involving just a handful of Israeli carriers who have continued to operate, including El Al, Arkia, and Israir.
Only a few international airlines have continued flying into the country. These include Ethiopian Airlines to Addis Ababa (ADD), Etihad Airways to Abu Dhabi (ABU), flydubai to Dubai (DXB), Uzbekistan Airways to Tashkent (TAS), as well as Hainan Airlines to China and Azimuth Airlines and Red Wings to Russia.
However, despite the conflict raging on and with no signs of ending any time soon, airlines have begun mooting the prospect of their return to Israel’s airports.
Already on January 8, 2024, Lufthansa Group airlines including Lufthansa, Swiss, and Austrian Airlines resumed flights to and from Tel Aviv, while Air France, Bulgaria Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Vueling (Spain), Transavia (France), and TUS Airways of Cyprus have all announced they intend to resume flights later in January.
“The airlines are taking into account a critical and important element in that there is no incoming tourism to Israel, and no one knows when it will resume,” said Tourism and aviation expert Yossi Fisher. “The decision is tactical and the investment is for the long term, in preparation for Easter and Passover. Besides, if war breaks out in the north of Israel tomorrow, within six hours Lufthansa will announce the suspension of all flights to Israel.”
Despite the planned return of many legacy airlines, low-cost airlines such as easyJet, Wizz Air, and Ryanair are yet to decide when they might resume flights to Israel. Indeed, Wizz Air has already announced that it has canceled all Israel flights through to March 2024. Turkish-based carriers such as Turkish Airlines and Pegasus are yet to state their intentions, while US airlines Delta, American, and United have also remained silent on the issue.
With foreign carriers once again contemplating a return to Israel, there has been a substantial rise in the number of Israelis traveling abroad in recent weeks. Shlomi Zafrany, El Al’s Vice President of Commercial and Industry Affairs, said that among Israelis there is a growing need to “get out and come up for air” by traveling around the world.
“There is a certain awakening that is very partial.” He adds that the war will change the priorities of customers, and El Al is unsure what the demand will be after the war,” he said.
“There is a strong negative effect on incoming tourism. We estimate that it will continue into 2024 and will affect the activity at Ben Gurion Airport and the routes offered,” he added. “We do see that there is segmented inbound tourism – family visits, Jewish communities from around the world, and new immigrants, but it is likely that we will not see groups of Christian pilgrims coming to Jerusalem.”
He continued: “In my estimation, we will not return to full normality in 2024. Even if all the hostages return tomorrow, the fighting in Gaza ends, and a northern front is not opened, we will still be hurt. There will be no full return to routine.”