On March 31st, TAP Air Portugal marked an exciting milestone by inaugurating flights to three new destinations: Tel Aviv, Dublin, and Basel. Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport hosted the celebration, where the airline’s CEO, Antonoaldo Neves, delivered a welcoming speech. He described these three newly established routes as “yet another significant stride in our ongoing journey of robust strategic growth.”
The event saw the presence of various dignitaries who joined in the festivities. These festivities included a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony and the presentation of a special cake crafted in honor of the inaugural flights. Musical performances and lively Israeli folk dancing further enlivened the celebration, infusing an extra layer of excitement into the occasion.
Participating in the inaugural flight to Tel Aviv on Sunday night was a distinct privilege. The Airbus A321neo long-range aircraft, carrying 200 passengers, arrived on schedule at Ben-Gurion Airport, where it received a ceremonial water cannon salute. Passengers were warmly welcomed upon disembarkation at Tel Aviv airport. This journey, with one of Portugal’s most dynamic and rapidly expanding airlines, to the historically significant destination of Israel, offered a truly exceptional experience.
Speaking at Ben-Gurion Airport, TAP Air Portugal CEO Antonoaldo Neves addressed the audience, saying, “The launch of daily flights between Lisbon and Tel Aviv will establish a new travel hub for Israel. This route will not only cater to travelers between Portugal and Israel but will also serve as an excellent gateway for passengers connecting to North America, South America, and Africa.
During the event, one of the speakers, Mr. Amir Halevi, who serves as the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, shared his perspective. He stated, “Israel is presently commemorating yet another milestone in tourism. In 2018, we witnessed an impressive increase of over 20 percent, with more than four million visitors. We aspire to sustain this positive trajectory with TAP through these newly established direct flights connecting Portugal to Tel Aviv.”
Ms. Matilde Salvacao Barreto, Deputy Head of Mission at the Portugal Embassy in Tel Aviv, emphasized, “Portugal and Israel share a robust and enduring friendship, one that we are eager to nurture and deepen through these new direct flights, signifying a significant stride in that direction.”
TAP’s remarkable growth trajectory is noteworthy, with an annual increase of approximately 1.5 million passengers, presently totaling 16 million passengers. In the previous year alone, TAP contributed approximately 4.4 million passengers to Lisbon’s tourism, experiencing an average annual growth rate of 10 percent. TAP consistently adds between 400,000 and 600,000 new tourists annually. Maintaining this momentum, TAP anticipates the arrival of 37 new aircraft by the year’s end and a total of 71 new planes by 2025. Mr. Neves conveyed to NYJTG, “We firmly believe in the market’s potential. There are 10 million passengers traveling to and from Israel each year, and we aim to capture a significant portion of this market as we move forward, potentially doubling our daily flights in the future, provided we have the aircraft to support it.”
TAP celebrated these inaugural flights with a diverse guest list, treating them to a special evening filled with Portuguese cuisine and live music by Ana Stilwell and her talented group. Dignitaries from TAP, Israel Tourism, travel agents, and journalists attended this memorable event.
Addressing the audience, Mr. Neves emphasized TAP’s core values, stating, “TAP is all about providing excellent customer service and competitive fares.”
Mr. Diogo Lacerda Machado, a TAP Portugal board member, shared a heartwarming story from their flight to Tel Aviv, where they met two travelers embarking on their dream journey. He highlighted the joy of making travelers’ dreams come true, emphasizing the gratifying role of the airline industry in fulfilling such wishes.
A new collaborative project involving the Chamber of Commerce and Israeli wine growers has brought forth an exciting avenue for business opportunities. This initiative connects 20 wineries from both Portugal and Israel, with a primary focus on gastronomy, wine routes, and tourism. Ms. Irit Freudenheim, the Portuguese Embassy’s Economic Attache, underscored the significance of these endeavors, stating, “Numerous bridges are being constructed between our two countries, demonstrating our unwavering commitment to fostering this relationship.”
In conjunction with this new route, TAP is set to offer connecting services from the United States via its Lisbon hub. Tel Aviv, like all of TAP’s “beyond Portugal” destinations, qualifies for the airline’s stopover program. Travelers will have the opportunity to connect to 40 destinations via Lisbon, including 10 cities in Brazil. Moreover, they can take advantage of TAP’s “Portugal Stopover” program, which permits passengers to extend their stay in Portugal for up to five additional days between connections at no additional cost. During this stopover, passengers can enjoy discounts on a wide range of services, including accommodation and dining. Mr. Neves elaborated to NYJTG, “We offer numerous incentives, such as complimentary sightseeing in Lisbon for one day, special hotel rates, the services of a tourist guide, and substantial hotel discounts.”
Returning to Israel as a visitor once again allowed me to immerse myself in the beauty of this diverse country, which offers a remarkable range of landscapes and attractions. Israel, nestled on the Mediterranean coastline, also offers a gateway to the Red Sea. The northern regions boast rolling hills and lush forests, in stark contrast to the predominantly desert landscapes of the south. Israel’s reputation as a safe destination becomes evident from the moment one arrives.
In January, Israel’s tourism industry experienced an impressive 11 percent increase in tourist arrivals, contributing a substantial $413 million to the Israeli economy. In 2018, more than 4.1 million tourists graced Israel with their presence, marking a remarkable 14 percent increase from the previous year. This figure set a record for the number of incoming tourists, reflecting a staggering 38 percent growth compared to 2016. The Israeli Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, attributed this success to the consistent and record-breaking trend in tourism promotion efforts worldwide, spanning countries such as the United States, Germany, Russia, Italy, England, China, Ukraine, Brazil, and the Philippines.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), tourists in Israel come from diverse backgrounds. In North America, Christians seeking connections to biblical heritage make up around 61 percent of visitors, while Jews comprise 40 to 44 percent. Surprisingly, 40 percent of tourists have visited Israel before. The U.S., France, Russia, Germany, Britain, and China are among the top countries sending tourists to Israel. TAP’s new routes are expected to boost tourism by improving air connections, benefiting Israel’s international appeal.
Here are some noteworthy places to explore in Israel. While I have my favorites that I revisit each time I travel to Israel, I also enjoy discovering lesser-known gems.
Tel Aviv and Jaffa: Tel Aviv is often the starting point for trips to Israel due to its proximity to Ben-Gurion Airport. This vibrant city offers a rich array of attractions, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, renowned for its extensive collection of Israeli art. Sarona, once a German Templar colony, now stands as a green oasis amidst modern skyscrapers, featuring boutiques, galleries, a visitors’ center, and the bustling Sarona Market.
Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv, is a must-see destination. Wandering through its winding alleyways, you’ll encounter art galleries, historic stone buildings, mosques, churches, the bustling Jaffa Flea Market, and the ancient Jaffa Port, one of the world’s oldest port cities.
Jaffa Hilltop and Gan HaPisga Jaffa Park are situated atop the ancient city of Jaffa. On a clear day, from Gan HaPisga (Peak Garden), you can enjoy panoramic views of the entire Tel Aviv skyline. For kids, a visit to the Wishing Bridge, which connects the Jaffa hilltop to Kedumim Square, is a delightful experience. Approaching the bridge’s entrance, you’ll encounter a beautiful stone mosaic featuring the 12 astrological signs. This bridge occupies the spot where an ancient fountain once stood, considered a wishing well in local lore. According to legend, if you touch your zodiac sign on the mosaic and make a wish, it’s said to come true.
Heading north to modern Tel Aviv, you’ll encounter the bustling Carmel Market, the city’s largest market. This vibrant outdoor souk is where traders peddle a wide array of goods, from clothing and spices to fruits and electronics. Alongside the market, you’ll find a plethora of delightful restaurants, juice shacks, and food stalls. As you wander, you can indulge in a variety of culinary delights while immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere, complete with the vibrant sights, sounds, and aromas of this authentic Middle Eastern-style souk. The Carmel Market is a beloved destination for visitors of all kinds.
Just a few blocks away lies the Nahalat Binyamin Market, which opens its doors every Tuesday and Friday. This market, situated in one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods, is a treasure trove of original, handmade items. Over 200 artists showcase their talents, offering a diverse range of arts and crafts, including exquisite jewelry. It’s a perfect spot for shopping and soaking up the city’s unique atmosphere.
A visit to the Dead Sea, a two-hour drive from Tel Aviv, is an absolute must. Situated in the stunning landscape of the Negev Desert, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. It boasts several beaches, each offering a distinct experience. The sea’s highly concentrated mineral salt content allows you to effortlessly float on its surface, a phenomenon renowned for its health and healing properties. It’s one of my favorite destinations in the world, and I wholeheartedly recommend experiencing its unique magic when you’re in Israel!
Masada is undeniably one of Israel’s most stunning destinations, proudly holding the prestigious status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This archaeological marvel comprises an ancient fortress constructed around 30 B.C.E. It gained historical renown as the site where Jewish rebels made the fateful decision to embrace self-sacrifice through suicide rather than submit to the Roman army, a tragic event that unfolded around 73 C.E. The vistas from this mountain stronghold, which command panoramic views of the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Exploring the Judean Desert in southern Israel on a jeep tour with Barak Horwitz is an immersive experience that breathes life into this rugged region. For many travelers, their first encounter with the rocky desert landscape of southern Israel serves as an initiation into the wonders of the desert. The best way to truly appreciate it is by venturing off the beaten path, traversing the hills, and exploring the dry streams. It’s an unforgettable experience that leaves a lasting impression and is nothing short of incredible.
Lastly, Jerusalem, a city steeped in timelessness, offers an unforgettable travel journey. It is an essential destination for gaining a fundamental understanding of the country’s culture and history. Beyond its historical significance, Jerusalem is a visually stunning and photogenic city. Every traveler should make a point to visit its iconic landmarks, including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the charming Old City neighborhoods that surround them. Another must-see location, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the city, is Mount Scopus, home to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is a prime spot for memorable photo opportunities.
Exploring the Old City takes on a new dimension when you embark on the hidden gem known as the Ramparts Walk. Often elusive even to locals, this experience stands out as one of the most enriching activities in terms of history, scenic beauty, and a deeper understanding of the city’s geography. The walk encompasses the Armenian Quarter and concludes at the Jewish Quarter, near the Dung Gate. Along the way, you’ll encounter numerous Armenian churches and historically significant structures, including the Dormition Abbey and the Church of St. Peter. As you traverse the path, you’ll even cross over the former stables, evoking memories of British and Jordanian rule, which now house an Israeli police station. Descending near the Dung Gate, you’ll find yourself just a brief stroll away from the Western Wall (Kotel) and its surroundings.
Another captivating destination within the Old City is the rebuilt Jewish Quarter, with a highlight being the Cardo. This area unveils an ancient Roman road that has been meticulously excavated, revealing
This story and accompanying photography were provided by Meyer Harroch and featured in the New York Jewish Travel Guide and New York Jewish Guide.com. The author participated in a press trip sponsored by TAP Air Portugal and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.