Cease-fire Bring Out Shoppers, Tourists in Waves

Retailing, tourism and advertising returned to life as the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip took hold.

Ilan Assayag

The three big business casualities of Operation Protective Edge – retailing, tourism and advertising – suddenly returned to life on Wednesday as the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip took hold.

In shopping malls, restaurants, online booking sites, airlines and television studios, business began returning to normal on Tuesday, when the Tisha B’av fast day usually sees a downturn in business.

“In the last two days we’ve felt a big increase in visitor traffic. There’s a feeling of liberation in the air,” said Yaron Eshel, deputy CEO for Gazit Globe, which operates 11 shopping malls under the G name.

Even on Tisha B’av, when religious Jews fast and refrain from entertainment, Gazit’s Cinema City mall saw traffic reach 30,000 shoppers, double the usual daily average and more than the 22,000 to 25,000 the mall saw on a summer vacation day this time last year.

When it comes to tourism, Wednesday traffic was three times the level of Sunday, according to Ziv Rosen, CEO of the online travel site Gulliver.

“Everyone who was sitting on the fence for so long is now planning a vacation. A very big recovery started a few days ago and it’s starting to look like August will be just an ordinary summer month,” said Ilan Shalev, head of commercial collaboration at Kavei Hufsha, another online travel site.

“We had 80,000 heads of households who were called up for reserve duty and couldn’t make reservations. They’re the core of the coming wave of reservations,” he predicted.

Retailing, tourism and adverting were all hard hit by Protective Edge, as shoppers stayed home for fear of rocket attacks and tourists cancelled airline and hotel reservations. As a result, advertisers held back, too, until they could count on customers to respond to their campaigns.

“Today you can say without a doubt that things have gotten back to normal,” said Ronen Nimni, a co-owner of the Café Café chain. “It’s a little early to compare the figures for last summer, but we’re expecting tto have a lot more business his weekend than on a usual weekend.”

The German airline Lufthansa, which suspended flights amid fears of rocket attacks for a few days in July, has resumed flights to Frankfurt and Munich. The carrier said it would reopen its Berlin route this weekend, as it tries to win back business with new travel packages over the next two days.

The rapid revival of business has typified Israel’s last three wars, but the recovery hasn’t always made up for the losses. Ayalet Farber, head of the economics unit at Isracard, said that after the 2012 Pillar of Defense conflict, business recovered rapidly and made up for the downturn of that year’s week-long conflict.

But, after the Cast Lead operation in 2008-09 – which lasted more than three weeks and, like Protective Edge, entailed a ground incursion – business never recovered enough to make up for lost sales.

In fact, some retailers say they have yet to see much of an increase in shopping.

“You should bear in mind that that the return to normal is for the moment in the sectors most influenced by people on the street – theatres, restaurants and cafés,” said one executive in the fashion retail sector, who asked not to be identified. “People were feeling strangled and they want to get out, but they still aren’t going out to buy clothes.”

But, he remains optimistic. “Two days ago was Tisha B’av, our slowest sale day of the year. We have time to get back to normal, assuming the cease-fire lasts more than 72 hours,” he said, referring to the history of failed truces during Protective Edge.

The shopping revival has had an immediate effect on advertising, where one industry executive, who asked not to be identified, said 80% of the available airtime – including 40 minutes of prime time – had been snapped up by advertisers since Protective Edge was formally declared over.

“It feels like everyone was ready with campaigns and just waiting for news of a cease-fire. Everyone jumped in at once,” he said. “It’s the peak consumer season now and all the advertisers want to be on the air.”