Author: Adi Koplewitz
Hours long waits at the Taba crossing from Eilat to the Sinai Peninsula have become an Israeli holiday tradition in recent years. But one thing is different this year: The land crossing is no longer the only way to enter Sinai, a much desirable vacation destination for many.
During this year’s Passover holiday, some 70,000 tourists are expected to cross in less than a week, so it’s no wonder the line to the border stretches over a mile. For the first time, there are direct flights from Ben-Gurion Airport to the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in South Sinai. Taking only 50 minutes, the flights, operated by El Al subsidiary Sun d’Or, offer a much quicker way for Israelis who seek cheap hotels with a view of the Red Sea.
Omer Razon, who was on the first flight Sunday, told The Media Line: “The flight was delayed, but it was still worth it. We never would have gone to Sharm through Taba, it’s just too packed. We’re here for a short vacation; we didn’t want to waste too much time on the road.”
“Now we have a few days to enjoy high-quality hotels and go on adventures for a relatively cheap price.”
Shahar Gofer, an Israeli Egyptologist and tour guide, said: “It could definitely change the character of Israeli tourism in Sinai, and maybe even in Egypt as a whole, to a certain extent. The flights to Sharm will make Sinai more accessible to Israelis.
“We’ll see more and more people coming to the resorts in coastal cities like Sharm and Dahab, and probably more tourists at the high mountains near Saint Catherine’s Monastery, as well,” he added. “I just hope it won’t change the peaceful atmosphere of that area. It’s quite unique in that sense.”
As for the rest of Egypt, Gofer is skeptical that the flights to Sharm el-Sheikh will be a game-changer.
“Israeli tourists still need a visa to go past Sharm. I’m not sure how many people will make the effort, but I’m hoping some will. Egypt has so much to offer to Israelis, from history and archaeology, and even Jewish heritage,” he said.
Flying Tel Aviv-Sharm el-Sheikh round trip costs between $300 and $500.
Gal Gershon, CEO of Sun d’Or, said the flights are fully booked during Passover, and the company hopes to increase their frequency.
Entering Sinai by air instead of by land allows visitors to avoid the tiresome wait at Taba.
“We’ve been in line for over six hours now, and we’re still not done. It’s my first time in Sinai, and had I known it’ll be like this, I wouldn’t have come,” said Tobi Siegel, an Israeli on his way to the peninsula. “I thought crossing by land would be cheaper, but I’m not so sure anymore. After going through this, I regret not taking a flight.”