Israel's 70th attracts record tourism, El Al Israel's Yoram Elgrabli reveals service attractions


Israel set an annual record of (an estimated) 3.6 million tourists visiting her holy sites and sandy beaches in 2017. But t
his 70th anniversary of Israel's independence may exceed that. From January to June of 2018, about 2.1 million tourist entries were recorded - an increase of 19 percent over the same period in 2017 (1.74 million) and 26 percent more than in 2016. 

The United States remains the largest source country for incoming tourists, with 470,200 tourist entries in 2018, 17% more than in 2017. More Canadians than ever are also traveling to Israel with a 14% visitor increase in 2018 compared to 2017.  (Source: Travel Daily News Int'l.

An estimated 2.9 million people entered Israel by air and 373,000 crossed over the land borders with Egypt and Jordan. Between January and November 2017,

Only about a fifth to a fourth of all tourists were Jewish, with the remainder comprised of other faiths or being non-affiliated. 54% of incoming tourists were Christian (a plurality of whom were Catholic, and 25% visiting as pilgrims).

The top five countries of origin for tourists to Israel were the US, Russia, France, Germany and the UK. 



Jerusalem March of the Nations, 2014 (photo: Int'l Christian Embassy in Jerusalem)


Besides summertime, Jewish tourism increases around religious holidays, like  Passover and the High Holidays season (Rosh Hashana through Simchat Torah). Many Christians visit for events around Sukkot, such as the annual March of the Nations (pictured above, courtesy ICEJ). But Israel's home airline, El Al also competes for business and secular travelers making their way to and from the Far East and Africa. 

We spoke with Yoram Elgrabli, who manages El Al's operations in The Americas, at Israeli Tourism Ministry's pavilion at the primarily Christian, NRB Proclaim Convention in Nashville. Mr. Elgrabli discusses the market and airline's improvements and expanded offerings for flyers.

 


Q: How much a part of Israeli tourism does Christian tourism comprise? 


A: "So in terms of figures and number we are facing this year an extraordinary year. All what concerned, the traffic from North America to Israel this year, we will reach the number of six, or 700,000 Americans who go from Israel."

Q: Who goes from North America to Israel?

A: "I can say that about 30 percent of them are Christian evangelicals who are going to make a pilgrimage tour in Israel, and those numbers are growing more and more, day by day."

Q: How do people decide which airline they will fly? For instance, of the tour groups do you market to get the tour groups to choose El Al?

A: "Of course we have very good relations with the travel agents that their profession is the pilgrim market. We are in a very good contact with them and as for North America we are generating about 60% from the number of seats to Israel nonstop flight. We are operating from Toronto Canada we are operating from Los Angeles we started the operating from Miami, Miami, Boston, in New York - from both Newark AND JFK. And as of November 18, we are going to open a new route from San Francisco - nonstop flight to Tel Aviv. "


El Al's North and Central American operations chief, Yoram Elgrabli at Israeli Tourism booth at Proclaim '18 in Nashville


Q: What's the connection between Israel and San Francisco / Silicon Valley?

A: "You are well aware that we call Israel today, there it has been branded "Start-up Nation." We we have a lot of engineers who work for Silicon Valley and we are there for them. We look forward to expanding our activity, too, in San Francisco. Both for Israelis to come to San Francisco and for sure for Israelis or American who come from San Francisco to do their business in Israel. "

Q: What sort of American high-tech companies have a presence in Israel?

A: "I think that every high-tech American company has a ever presence in Israel. You can call it Apple, their R&D - they are sitting in Herzliya. Intel, Google, Microsoft, Facebook - every every high-tech company thaty I the company that counts itself as a serious one - I think have a an office in Israel or a representative in Israel and I know that of course (how you call this company - okay, never mind). "

Q: For business travelers who are going towards the Middle East . . . many people because of the marketing of the Emirates or other Arab Airlines - but if someone is going beyond Israel, would El Al also be an option?

A: "El Al will be an option beyond Israel if you want to go to South Africa or maybe to the Far East. So we are operating to - Johannesburg, we are operating to Hong Kong, Beijing, Bombay, and Hong Kong - so these business travelers they have a high standard they expect a high standard in business class, for instance, even in coach."

Spacious, Premium Economy seating on El Al's Boeing 787 Dreamliners
Q: How does El Al compare with the competition of the American Airlines which are flying that direction or British Airways, for instance, for the business traveler?

A: "So just to let you know that we started now to get our brand new Dreamliners! We have both made an acquisition of 16 Dreamliner with the addition for additional 13. We already have 4 in our fleet! And every quarter, every trimester we are going to get another one and those Dreamliners are going to serve first - first of all the North America routes. "




"Today we are operating from New York on a daily basis with a Dreamliner. The Dreamliner is a state-of-the-art aircraft with a very Premium Class say that is, I think we have a nice and cozy Business Class. We have the only company from North America that is operating with this class . . . A state-of-the-art Entertainment System onboard ... and you know that Israeli service at the moment that you take your first step inside our aircraft, you can feel the Israeli ambience, the food, the service, and your journey to Israel starts actually at the moment that you place your first step in our aircraft." 

Q: "In the United States, security has become even more important. But around the world people are looking to Israel toward Israel as the example for keeping safe. What is special about flying EL AL in terms of security - in-flight security and traveling to the Middle East?"

A: "So with your permission, I won't elaborate on our security system, how we are working, or what is the level of security that we are using. But it's not a secret that our company has a very good reputation in all that's concerned to security. Our clients' safety and security is above all - and we don't make any compromises in this subject. This is the only thing that I can say."


Yoram Elgrabli praises outgoing US Tourism head, Uri Steinberg,
at a ceremony at the Israel Tourism Ministry's booth in Nashville
Q: "Is El Al participating in any global mileage clubs?

A:  No, unfortunately not, we do not belong to any alliance, but we have a code-share with other airlines. Like in North America we are we have a code-share with JetBlue Airlines ... That you can get JetBlue, yes, from (I don't know whether from everywhere in North America, but almost every place every airport in North America) and connecting to our flights. And we have some other code-shares that we are using in Europe like Swiss, like Iberia, like other carriers - that allow us to operate from Tel Aviv to our hubs - and beyond."

Question: "How would Flyers find those flights where they find it through the EL AL site? Or would they go to one of the partners' and book it there with a partnership on El Al"

Answer: "It can be both! You can make it through the JetBlue, let's say, or you can buy it on our ticketing, or on Jet Blue's ticketing, or through another carrier's ticket. We have also a very important code-share with American Airlines that, eh, yeah. So we have we have a lot of variety variety of product that can serve our clients."

Question: "Which website can people reach-out to from English-speaking countries? What's the URL?

Answer: "So you can just click https://ELAL.com and you are welcome to surf and buy and to see all our product."


Mr. Elgrabli, thank you so much. Congratulations on the Israeli nation's 70th anniversary.  This should be a big year for El Al."
Visiting tourists spent an estimated N.I.Shekels 20 billion inside the country, according to a statement from the Tourism Ministry, and some 200,000 Israelis work in the industry.  
El Al will initiate regular non-stop service to and from San Francisco on Nov. 18, 2018. 

(Some info contributed from the Jerusalem Post's Max Schindler). 

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