Thanks to Netta, Israel Looks Forward to Tourism Bonus From Hosting 2019 Eurovision

The event, slated to take place in Jerusalem, will draw tens of thousands of visitors as well as tens of millions of TV viewers

Israel's singer Netta Barzilai performs with the trophy after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 on May 12, 2018.
FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP

A day after Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision contest, officials in Israel were already looking forward to hosting the event a year from now – if they can sort out the problems of where and when to stage the event and keep the costs under control.

Just like the Giro d’Italia bicycle race, whose first leg was staged in Israel this month, officials are looking at Eurovision not only as a way to lure tens of thousands of visitors to Israel but to raise the country’s profile on the world tourism map.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Attendance by foreign tourists varies from year to year and by venue, but in recent years it has ranged from 38,000-39,000 in Denmark and Sweden to 20,000 in more distant Ukraine. This year’s event in Lisbon is estimated to have drawn 30,000 visitors.

Saturday night’s Eurovision event was viewed by 1.05 billion people around the world, the most since 2005.

Music lovers
Number of tourists coming to attend Eurovision

In 2017, the last year for which figures are available, 182 million viewers tuned in for the contests – and that number was relatively low because Russia boycotted the event.

“Last night Portugal did a great job of taking advantage of the time between songs to advertise Portugal and called on viewers to come and visit. We’ll also invite viewer to visit Israel,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “We’ll be hosting three events – two semifinals and the final event and that adds up to a big opportunity.”

>> Israel's Netta wins 2018 Eurovision song contest with 'Toy' ■  From Bjork to BDS, Israel's winning Eurovision #Chickensong toys with Israel haters ■ Kapara on you? How Netanyahu congratulating Israel's Eurovision winner turned into a digital insult

Levine said the campaign to bring visitors to Israel next year was already underway on Sunday because Barzilai’s victory had enhanced the country’s image. “There’s no doubt that winning yesterday created interest in Israel, presented it as normal and showed its beautiful face,” Levin said.

Officials calculate that if Israel can match Portugal’s arrival numbers next May, that could add up to immediate proceeds of at least $15 million. According to the Tourism Ministry, the average visitor to Israel last year spent $162 a day and people attending Eurovision would likely stay for three days.

But that is the minimum; visitors to events tend to spend more than ordinary tourists and many will come for the semi-finals, extending their stay.

However, there are some problems that require ironing out. While Jerusalem is the natural venue for the event because Eurovision is traditionally staged in the host country’s capital city, the city doesn’t have a venue suitable for the event, which must be able to hold 30,000 spectators.

Teddy Stadium in the capital Malha section is big enough, but Eurovision rules require the final be held in an enclosed space, and it’s not clear that the contest organizers will make an exception to the rule.

Moreover, the event is held Saturday night, which would create problems of Sabbath observance in a city that is overwhelming religiously observant.

Nevertheless, Ilanit Melchior, who is responsible for tourism at the Jerusalem Development Authority, said she was looking forward to the event being held in the city.

“Eurovision in Jerusalem is a tourism event that will serve to draw millions from around the world. Jerusalem has risen in the global ranks in recent years in terms of international tourism events,” she said, estimating 30,000 people would come and spend an average of $1,000.

If Eurovision is held in Tel Aviv, the obvious venue would be the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on the city’s north side. Iris Mazal, the site’s vice president for marketing, expressed enthusiasm about hosting the events and said the management had lots of experience dealing with events of that size.

“Right now we’ve just finished with the European judo championship with 54 delegations and direct broadcasts to all over Europe,” she said.

However, Tel Aviv municipal officials said they were not ready to compete with Jerusalem over the honors, even though Tel Aviv would in some ways be a more natural location for a glam event like Eurovision.

Another concern of officials is keeping costs under control. The last time Israel hosted Eurovision, in 1999, the budget was just $7 million. In more recent years it’s ranged from $48 million when Azerbaijan hosted in 2012, to 9 million when Sweden was the venue in 2016.

However, in most years the host country loses money – the only exception being when Sweden did it on a tight budget.