El Al, Israel’s flagship carrier, says they are the only global airline that does not charge passengers to check a bicycle in addition to their baggage.
“Its part of El Al’s strategy to promote activity sports in Israel,” an El Al spokesperson told The Media Line in a statement.
Tourism has always been an important source of revenue for Israel, and in recent years the government has made a concerted effort to boost the numbers of bike tourists visiting the country.
“The government is supporting it,” Nimrod Hanegbi, a tour organizer with BikeIsrael.com told The Media Line. “Its hard to say how many people are coming because some come in organized groups and some don’t… so we don’t have exact numbers but it’s going up every year.”
Adam Sela, an adventure tour operator in southern Israel, agreed that the niche tourism market is growing.
“It’s bigger and it’s getting bigger every year,” Sela told The Media Line. “There are hundreds of trails, something for everyone.”
Hanegbi said his company is advising tourists to bring their bicycles rather than to try rent locally.
“It’s better to bring your own,” he said. ”Renting is difficult and there are not that many places where you can rent a bike.”
“Serious bikers will always bring their own bike,” Sela said, adding that there are numerous bike services shops all over the country. “That’s part of the fun.”
“If you are a tourist just adding on a few hours of bike tourism when already here then its better to rent,” Sela said. “But if you plan to come for a ten day trip then its better to bring you own since there are no full suspension bikes for rent.”
An estimated 2.2 million tourists visited Israel in 2009, a number that the Ministry of Tourism hopes to bring up to 3 million in 2012. The ministry claims that with each additional 100,000 tourists the country creates 4,000 new jobs and brings in an extra $122 million in revenue.
A survey by The International Bicycle Fund, which works to promote bike transportations, found that most airlines (including El Al) require passengers to dissemble their bikes and pack them into a special case or box prior to traveling.
The price of taking a bike varies from airline to airline, and the bike advocacy group said that accessing airline fees for bicycles is challenging as the fees change and most airlines are not forthcoming in presenting them.
Some airlines have a fixed price ranging from $50 to $200, while other airlines allow the bike to be included as part of a passenger’s checked luggage, as long as the total weight is within the allowed weight limit.
Fees often vary based on the destination.