Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has been in Israel this week discussing the airline’s major expansion plans for the country. During he time O’Leary has praised the Jewish state as a top tourist destination, promising he can bring “millions more to Israel”.

He said, “People are fed up with destinations like the Canary Islands and such places. Israel has wonderful beaches and very good food. If we can offer reasonable prices then Israel with its weather and beautiful beaches can become a preferred destination. We can bring millions more to Israel. We can grow as fast as the authorities allow us to.”

O’Leary wants to set up a base in Israel to expand the numbers of routes Ryanair offers. He would also like to offer domestic flights – something which no other foreign airline has ever been allowed to do and asked for more early morning slots out of Ben Gurion airport.

In 2018, Ryanair flew 602,000 passengers to and from Israel. 517,000 passengers were flown to and from Ben Gurion airport, triple the number in 2017, and 85,000 passengers were flown to and from Ovda, double the number from 2017.

Israel saw a record number of international tourists visiting the Holy Land in 2018. The Israel Ministry of Tourism confirmed a record-breaking year, with 4.1 million visitors arriving last year, mainly from the US, UK, France, Russia, Germany and Italy.

The figure represents a 14 percent increase on 2017 and a 42 percent increase on 2016, when tourism chiefs hailing a “revolution” in the way Israel is now seen as a top destination.

The Christian connection with the Holy Land is evidenced in the fact that more than half the tourists – some 56% – who visited Israel in 2018 were Christian, Israel’s tourism ministry said, with approximately 19% defining themselves as pilgrims. Forty-one percent of Christian visitors were Catholic, 27% Protestants and 28% Orthodox.

Christian tourism has made a significant contribution to Israel’s record-breaking year of incoming tourism.

“We are optimistic about 2019, which begins with the opening of the new international airport at Timna, bringing new flights to Eilat,” said Tourism Ministry general-director Amir Halevi.

“What was considered a fantasy a few years ago is today a reality, that Israel is a preferred tourist destination among tourism destinations,” he said, adding that it was “part of a revolution in the way Israel is marketed”.