Israel's Ministry of Tourism has teamed up with the Vatican's new charter flight service in a joint bid to increase the number of Catholic pilgrim visitors to Israel.
Suzan Kalgesbrun, Manager of the Ministry of Tourism's Milan bureau, told Ynetnews that the cooperation was aimed at marketing the flights towards young religious Italians, adding that she expected tens of thousands of pilgrims to visit Israel in the coming months.
Kalgesburn said the flight service has already been launched, adding that prices were being determined by the travel agents booking the charter packages.
"We have marketing agreement with the airline, especially this young crowd, because the Catholic church wants to bring them closer to religion," Kalgesbrun said. "We have put together some very attractive tours, which cover classic holy Christian sites, but also include sun in Tel Aviv, and a visit to the Dead Sea," she added, noting that the tours aimed to combine religious sites with tastes of modern Israel .
Kalgesbrun added she found a highly enthusiastic partner in the Vatican during the planning of the marketing campaign. "The Vatican is very interested in doing this. As soon as they begin, there will be a series of 60 flights, if you can fly 190 people on each flight, you are talking about thousands," she said.
The bureau manager added that Israel was also interested in bringing secular Italians to the country, and has "created ad and PR campaigns to encourage non-religious Italians to visit Israel."
Asked if Israelis could use the service to fly to Italy, Kalgesburn said the flights were reserved for Catholic pilgrims who would also fill the planes returning back to Italy. She added, however, that Israeli passengers travelling to Italy could book charter packages with a number of airlines.
Kalgesbrun noted that the new package flight service represented a further step in the direction of an open skies policy, which the Tourism Ministry fully supported. "Of course this is a very positive development," she said. "We do not neglect our full cooperation with El Al, and we have many marketing operations with El Al, but this does not prevent us from making agreements and taking up other opportunities - one does not contradict the other," she added.
Reproduced with permission: Ynet