EILAT hoteliers are heavily promoting their millennium celebrations in a bid to spark a recovery in the UK market this winter.

The destination experienced a major slump last winter, when UK visitors to Eilat fell to 35,000 – around 10,000 fewer than usual.

“It was the worst year from the UK for a decade,” admitted Sheraton Moriah Hotels vice-president for marketing Shmuel Zurel, who was part of a delegation visiting the UK to promote the millennium last week. The other members were Eilat Hotel Association chairman Aharon Decel and Isrotel Hotels general manager Rafi Sade.

Zurel blamed the downturn on Thomson’s decision to cancel the remainder of its winter programme to Eilat, including flights by its charter carrier Britannia, at the start of the year (Travel Weekly January 6). However, Zurel said Thomson had now reinstated its programme, and the market was picking up because of the millennium.

“It seems that the millennium week is already heavily booked in advance,” he said. “The rest of the season is also going well.”

He believes UK visitors are being attracted to Eilat for the millennium because of its proximity to destinations of religious significance like Jerusalem and Nazareth.

Eilat hoteliers are also planning their own celebrations at the resort, and there will be a firework display out to sea.

Meanwhile, Zurel predicted that the recent resumption of the peace process in the Middle East would be another positive influence on the UK holiday market.

“We are absolutely sure that the outcome of the peace process is going to impact on demand from the UK,” he said.