Streets in the center of Tel Aviv have been decorated for days with Gay Pride flags. City Hall is lit up at night in the colors of the rainbow, and Hilton Beach, Israel’s strip of sand most identified with the gay community, is hopping. Friday’s Gay Pride parade is expected to bring in 5,000 to 7,000 foreign tourists.
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According to the municipality, for June as a whole the gay tourism market is expected to attract about 30,000 visitors from abroad. Many Tel Aviv businesses are well aware that you don’t have to be gay to fly the Gay Pride flag.
Hotels in the city are at high occupancy and have demanded higher rates. Although Tel Aviv parade tourism is much smaller than in Berlin or Madrid, the city is considered a top year-round vacation destination for the LGBT community.
Tel Aviv has earned kudos such as the best gay city in the world, while Hilton Beach has been ranked one of the world’s top-10 gay-and-lesbian beaches. Gay tourism advertising is funded by the municipality, the Tourism Ministry and the Tel Aviv Hotel Association.
Hotel occupancy in May and June is always high in the city, but it’s harder to find a room during Gay Pride Week. “It’s the strongest period of the year, more than July to August, more than September,” said one hotel manager. “Some guests reserved six months in advance. I’ve known that I would be fully booked for three months.”
Vacation apartments are also in high demand. One homeowner who regularly rents out a room in June for $70 a night says he has raised that fee to $120. City councilman Yaniv Weizman notes that gay tourists spend more.
“The community has matured,” he said. “There are a lot of 40-plus tourists who have plenty of money and are leaving it in Israel.” But he admits that Europeans view Tel Aviv as expensive.
Gay tourism to Tel Aviv has been boosted by promoting on social media and blogs.
“In my view, they’re doing most of the work,” Weizman said. “We just won the title as one of the 10 best gay beaches in the world. That’s a marketing and PR achievement because it’s clear there are amazing beaches around the world.” Every foreign tourist turns into an ambassador, and gay tourists to Tel Aviv often come back, Weizman added.
According to Shai Doitsh, the chairman of the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, “Our advantage is the surprise effect, the disparity. People view Tel Aviv as part of a problematic region, but when they visit they discover we’re one of the safest cities … for the community.”