Eilat or Aqaba? No contest on price

Eilat Photo: ASAP Shutterstock

Israel is missing out on the tourism potential of the Red Sea, Negev and Arava and could learn much from the Jordanians.

Eilat or Aqaba? For European tourists looking for some warm winter sunshine, it really doesn't make a lot of difference and Eilat is at a disadvantage in terms of price. The competition is becoming more and more challenging, especiaslly when you take into account that on social networks and website recommendations, tourists are forever complaining about how expensive Israel is.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the average visitor to Eilat spends NIS 2,200 on their vacation (not including flights), so that businesses in the Red Sea resort can expect to earn about NIS 352 million from overseas tourists this winter - an amount worth fighting for. So it's no surprise that the government is investing millions of shekels in order to bring tourists to Eilat and promote the resort as a vacation destination.

Last winter, a record 110,000 oversea tourists came to Eilat, mostly from Russia, Poland and Germany on direct flights. The number of direct flights to Ovda in the Negev (and soon to Eilat's new Ramon airport) is more than doubling each year. This winter an average of 55 direct flights a week are expected from various European destinations, and by no means all of them by low-cost carriers. There are direct flights from London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Frankfurt, Zurich, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Sofia and more and estimates are that they will bring 165,000 tourists this winter (November-March).

Airlines including Ryanair, Wizz Air and Transavia receive financial incentives from the Israeli government - €60 for each overseas tourist that they bring and a 10% bonus for carriers operating at least 14 weekly flights, and adding two more weekly flights this winter.

Intense competition

The Ministry of Tourism markets Eilat as a vacation destination with year-round sunshine with an advertising campaign that strives to persuade Europeans to cast aside their heavy winter clothing and fly over to the Red Sea. The problem is that Jordan also understands the same tourist package potential and dozens of low-cost carriers are flying into Aqaba this winter.

Jordan like other Arab countries (and especially Eilat's southern neighbor Egypt) is seeing tourist numbers fall. In 2010, 8 million tourists came to Jordan, mainly from Europe, but by last year that number had slumped to 4.2 million - a similar number of tourists is expected in Israel in 2018. In order to encourage tourism, Jordan has waived airport taxes and brought hundreds of senior journalists and influential personalities to the country to sing its praises.

Most significantly, hotels in Jordan are far cheaper than in Israel and in some instances, the airfares are also much cheaper, making it difficult for Israel to compete. For example, fares from Cracow in Poland to Amman on January 4 start from NIS 250, while a flight from Carcow to Ovda in the Negev on the same day costs NIS 560. The difference in hotel prices is even greater. According to Booking.com, a week in the five-star Aqaba Intercontinental Hotel during January costs NIS 5,000 per couple, NIS 4,500 per couple in Kempinski (also five star) and as little as NIS 1,800 for a week per couple in Hilton's DoubleTree hotel.

In Eilat a week for a couple in January in a five start hotel starts at NIS 5,500 in Isrotel's Royal Garden and NIS 7,300 in Herod's Palace and NIS 6,600 in the Astral Palma. The best four star deal was NIS 3,800 for a week per couple in the Isrotel Yam Suf Red Sea.

"Missed potential

In terms of desert vacations in either Israel or Jordan, Israel is at an even bigger disadvantage. The Ministry of Tourism is trying to promote tourism to the Negev and Arava.

HotelsCombined Israel representative Eyal Segal said, "Tourists landing at Ovda find only expensive accommodation, mainly near Mitzpe Ramon and few desert attractions compared with Jordan."

He added, "There are 9 hotels in the region, while Jordan has 39 hotels in its desert region, demonstrating the relatively high demand for desert vacations among tourists and the better exploitation of the potential by the Jordanians."

Once again the price differences are alsao considerable. A weekend for a couple in a three star hotel in Jordan's Wadi Ram costs NIS 210-300 and NIS 950 in a five star hotel. A weekend in a three star hotel in Petra costs NIS 480-680, NIS 810 in a four star hotel and NIS 1,440 in a five star hotel. In contrast, a weekend in a five star hotel in Mitzpe Ramon costs NIS 4,250 and NIS 1,400 in a four star hotel and NIS 1,100 in a three star hotel in Mitzpe Ramon.

Segal concludes, "Missing out on Israel's desert tourism potential not only impacts hotels but also oter businesses like jeep safaris, guided walking tours in the desert, restaurants and much more."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 20, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Eilat Photo: ASAP Shutterstock
Eilat Photo: ASAP Shutterstock
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