Eilat - a Hot Spot for the Young, With or Without a Hotel Room

The tourism capital of Israel has 12,000 hotel rooms, most of which are taken

Like many people their age, Daniel and Or, conscripted soldiers, used their leave from the army to spend a few days in Eilat. Banned from the hotels, their group of six men rented an apartment for five days for NIS 2,000.

Eilat hotels have more or less banned teenagers, following multiple incidents of vandalism. Thus, they have few choices but to stay in reasonable and not-so-reasonable rented apartments, cheap hostels or underneath the stars.

"When they come in groups, they egg each other on and end up breaking all imaginable rules of conduct," says the head of Eilat's hoteliers association, Shabbi Shai. The teenager ban resulted in a sharp drop in vandalism, he said.

"The conditions are squalid," said one of Daniel's friends of the apartment they rented. "There's no air conditioning, the staircase is dark and the landlord isn't very nice, either." Still, they are willing to pay the price to sunbathe in the southern sun, dip in the clear water of the Red Sea and revel in the sight of young, bikini-clad women.

They boarded an intercity bus in Tel Aviv and arrived in Eilat four hours later. Last night, their vacation ended. Today they have to return to the army. If they weren't conscripted, says Daniel, they would have gone to Greece, Turkey or Cyprus. "But we couldn't be bothered with getting all the army permits to go abroad," he says.

In their last hours in town, they walked on the promenade, enjoying the last moments of freedom. "We went to cool parties, we drank, we did what young people like doing," Daniel said.

Visitors to Eilat might have well gained the impression that the city had been overrun by teenagers, who spend their days on the beaches of Israel's tourism capital.

Eilat currently has 12,000 hotel rooms in some 50 hotels, which currently are near full capacity with local and foreign tourists, predominantly from France.

"The hotels now have 40,000 vacationers, and that's not counting the young people in rented rooms," says Shai. He says Eilat likely has more tourists than residents.

People renting apartments, it must be said, are paying considerably less than hotel guests. This influx of tourist put four to five-star hotel rates at NIS 1,500 to 2,000 a night, and three- to four-star hotels cost NIS 700 per night.

A halfway solution for many young people is to rent a folding plastic lounge chair, which costs NIS 10 for the whole day. An inflatable mattress costs NIS 19.90. This one-time expenditure can serve especially low-budget tourists for the entire vacation.

Meanwhile, for many Israelis, Eilat is just a waterhole on the journey to Sinai, as it has been since 1967. Except now, they are crossing the Taba border crossing despite a stringent warning by the Foreign Ministry. In July, the border crossing saw a 75,000-strong exodus - 10,000 more than in the same period last year.

The Israel Airports Authority, which operates Taba, reports a 45-percent increase in the number of Israelis exiting the country through all exit points. Most are Arab Israelis who have less concerns about vacationing in Sinai.