The first direct, nonstop Beijing to Tel Aviv flight touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday, as China’s Hainan Airlines, the country’s largest private aviation firm, began its direct service to and from Israel. On hand to greet the plane was Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who said that the new airline signifies “a new level in relations between Israel and China.”
Also present was Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, who said that the new line meant “a new era in relations between Israel and China, and an important development in our relationship.”
Hainan will operate three flights to and from Israel, flying between Beijing and Ben Gurion airport. Until now, all flights to and from China included stopovers, usually in Bangkok. Tourism industry officials said that they expect the new direct flights to create significant competition for El Al, which itself operates several flights to China weekly, with prices likely to come down.
The Israel Tourism Ministry believes that an increase in seat capacity between Israel and China will lead to a significant increase in the number of tourists from China; currently that figure stands at about 40,000 a year. At the same time, the Tourism Ministry has been investing significantly in preparing the relevant tourism infrastructure for Chinese tourists who have specific requirements. To foster that increase, the Ministry has been working in cooperation with the relevant authorities to shorten by two-thirds the length of time it takes to issue a visa for Israel for Chinese tourists.
Over the last three years, there has been a constant growth in the percentage increase of incoming tourism from China to Israel – even though the actual numbers are low in comparison to the overall Chinese market. In 2014, about 34,100 visitors from China arrived in Israel, 36.2 percent more than 2013 when 25,042 came; 76 percent more than 2012 when the numbers reached 19,416.
Hainan Airlines is the largest privately owned Chinese airlines and the fourth largest in China, after the government-owned China Eastern Airlines, Air China and China Southern Airlines. Hainan Airlines has 137 planes and operates about 600 domestic and international routes linking 90 cities.