With tourism from China on the rise, a Chinese airline on Friday announced it would start offering direct flights from Beijing to Tel Aviv beginning in April.
Hainan Airlines, the largest private carrier in China, will offer three flights weekly at prices expected to be significantly cheaper than El Al. The Israeli carrier currently offers the only direct flights between Ben Gurion International Airport and China.
Flights will start April 28 and, in order not to compete directly with El Al, will depart on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The airline’s announcement followed a series of meetings between Israeli embassy and airline officials, who convinced the carrier of the financial boon of offering direct flights between the two countries. Israel’s Ambassador to China Matan Vilnai was directly involved in the talks with Hainan’s president, Ynet news reported.
According to the Foreign Ministry, 33,000 Chinese tourists visited Israel in 2014, while this year 34,000 had already arrived by the end of August, Ynet reported. Those figures are over triple the 9,800 who came in 2000, according to a Haaretz report earlier this year.
The Globes newspaper reported that 54,000 passengers flew from Tel Aviv to Beijing in 2014, up five percent from 2013, citing Israel Airports Authority figures.
“China is the second largest economy in the world and every year, the number of Chinese traveling throughout the world grows,” said Vilnai. “The State of Israel sees great importance in deepening our relationship with China. The goal is to reach 100,000 tourists from China within two years.”