Just a few weeks ago, Eilat hotels were bracing for a disastrous summer after the Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv was closed at the start of the season, prompting fears it would deter Israeli tourists from coming to Eilat during July and August.
As it turns out their fears were unfounded. The number of round-trip flights to Eilat –now available only from Terminal 1 at Ben-Gurion International Airport – dropped by 21.6% in July and 20% in August compared with a year earlier. But overnight hotel stays soared.
“July-August were the best summer months Eilat hotels have had in the last decade,” said Lior Mucznik, CEO of Dan Hotels in Eilat and chairman of the local hotels association.
The Israel Hotels Association said overnight stays in July were up 7% from a year earlier. While figures for August haven’t yet been published, conversations will hoteliers indicate they rose at about the same level.
“It was the strongest season we’ve ever had. We ended with a 95% occupancy rate in July-August. People simply decided that they would come down to Eilat by car. Suddenly they realized it was cheaper and that it [the drive] wasn't so terrible,” added Benny Zerach, a partner in the Astral Hotels chain.
The southern resort town’s hoteliers won’t admit it, but one of the reason they had such a strong season was that the cut room rates. Figures collected by the online travel site for TheMarker show that rates were down 6-10% from a year ago. For instance four nights half board for a couple at the Magic Palace Hotel cost 6,200 shekels ($1,756) in August, versus 6,900 in August 2018.
Further checks by TheMarker showed that the discounted rates would hold through the High Holidays in September and October. Rates for a four-night, all-inclusive package for a couple at the Isrotel Sport Hotel during Succoth are 8% lower than the same 6,650 shekels charged during the holiday last year.
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Hoteliers waged a campaign to prevent the closure of Sde Dov, a tiny airport that was conveniently located in Tel Aviv. “We were scared that without Sde Dov people give think twice about going through the trouble of travelling to Eilat,” said Mucznik. “But we were proven wrong. Even September has shaped up to be a good month in terms of occupancy levels.”
Even the airlines who saw their passenger counts drop this summer expressed optimism going forward.
“What we’re seeing now is the effect of the campaign against the closure of Sde Dov, whose message was how much worse Ben-Gurion was compared to Sde Dov,” said an Israeli aviation official, explaining the big drop-off during the summer. “As soon as Sde Dov was closed, efforts were made to improve the level of service at Ben Gurion Airport, all resources have been directed toward it.”