Last year Monarch announced it would be launching a programme to Israel, selling flight and hotel packages from Luton to Tel Aviv and Eilat.
Since starting in December, the operator has carried 20,000 passengers to the country.
And last month it started a summer season of flights from Manchester to Tel Aviv.
Perceptions about safety remain a significant challenge, both for the operator and the country’s tourism authorities. While the Foreign Office advises against travel only to certain areas in the country such as Gaza, it does warn of a “high level of terrorism”.
Monarch says its decision to operate to Israel was made on the back of growing demand in the UK.
Head of trade sales Simon Garrido also said the range of holidays Israel offered and its warm all-year climate made it an obvious choice for the operator and a destination that agents can sell easily.
“Israel gives us the opportunity to operate to a destination where we believe there are possibilities for city breaks, beach holidays and a mixture of the two,” he said.
“The year-round climate enables us to operate a longer season than traditional summer or winter resorts.
“And it’s unique. Very few destinations that come on to the market give agents the opportunity to tailor a holiday around their customers’ needs.
“It’s the sort of destination that you can add value to with knowledge and advice.”
As well as the beaches and buzzing nightlife of Tel Aviv, Garrido said there is an opportunity for the resort city of Eilat to attract those winter-sun seekers who usually head for Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt or Tunisia.
Located on the shore of the Red Sea, Eilat is packed with family‑friendly hotels, stretches of beach and diving.
“Eilat was very successful back in the day, so we believe there are opportunities there,” said Garrido.
“There’s good-quality sun within four-and-a-half hours of the UK.”
Commenting on safety concerns, he said: “We wouldn’t operate to a non-safe destination. We believe it’s a particularly safe area to come to and very secure.
“We can only go on how we find the experience in Tel Aviv and Eliat. We’ve found it to be as security-conscious as a lot of the other destinations that we travel to.”
Safety fears remain the “number‑one challenge” in attracting tourists to Israel, Tel Aviv’s tourism chief admits.
Despite this, UK visitors to the country have increased. In 2015, 200,000 Brits travelled to Israel, up from 180,000 in 2014, making it the fifth-biggest market.
This year the country hopes to welcome 220,000 UK tourists.
Isaac Mizrachi, tourism director at Tel Aviv Global, said: “The media normally shows the story in a certain way that isn’t necessarily what you see on the streets. So for tourists it’s hard to consider and choose Tel Aviv as a destination.
“Safety is probably the number-one challenge: the perception is that it’s not a safe place.”
Major works currently going on in the city include widening the promenade and developing new facilities such as a beach library and two pavilions.
Mizrachi hopes these upgrades, as well as the city’s Pride festival and niche attractions such as its vegan festival in September, will draw more UK visitors, but admits the country’s tourism authorities have their work cut out.
Last month a bomb explosion on a bus in Jerusalem – just 36 miles away – injured 21 people. It followed months of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories that has seen 183 Palestinians and 28 Israelis killed since October.
Mizrachi said: “Of course, it’s very sad. It’s a terrorist attack. On the other hand, this happens all the time around the world. The question is, should we stop and reassess every time it happens? Should the US stop every time there is a massacre in a shopping mall? But because [those attacks] are not terrorism, the US is seen as less dangerous and less risky.”
He stressed that crime rates were very low in Tel Aviv. “There are dangerous places in Israel but it’s safe in Tel Aviv and we try to communicate that as much as we can,” he said. “Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t.”
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Agents' fam trip feedback
Chloe Kirk, sales consultant, Thomas Cook, Doncaster
“My advice would be to go to Israel with an open mind because everywhere is very different depending where you go. It was the opposite to what I thought, and that’s in a good way. I would say Tel Aviv is a city break and Eilat is a week’s holiday. I’d definitely sell it as a winter-sun destination.”
Tracy Mendelsson, sales consultant, Travelink, Hendon
“I was really surprised by how modern the hotels were and how Tel Aviv has developed into such a lively destination and a great jumping off point to visit the rest of Israel. Eilat is a good winter-sun destination and offers great diving and food.”
Mike Moran, partner, Moran Travel, Louth, Lincs
“Tel Aviv was my favourite place as a city to come to for a few days. I’d say be prepared for heavy security at the airport but the general perception of Israel is not necessarily true. I would have no hesitation selling it but you need to check the local situation and the FCO advice.”
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