After Eurovision, Israel Is Hoping for Tourism Boom

The number of foreign visitors was smaller than was hoped, but organizers made the most of the event’s TV and social media exposure

The beaches of Tel Aviv as Israel prepares to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, May 9, 2019.
AFP

Eurovision 2019 didn’t bring the tens of thousands of tourists Israel had hoped for. There was no need for cruise ships or tent cities to house masses of visitors to Tel Aviv’s overwhelmed hotels. But a day after the international song contest ended, Israel’s tourism industry is counting on the massive media exposure Eurovision generated to lure many more tourists in its wake.

Eurovision 2019 was the biggest international cultural event Israel has ever staged and it pulled out all the stops to make sure the approximately 200 million viewers watching the contest finale saw the best of the country.

>> Read more: Netanyahu refused to fund the Eurovision but reaps its fruits | Analysis ■ Israel put its best face forward in a Eurovision that succeeded in all ways but one

Anyone who stayed on after the music competition segment was over was treated to a three-minute video hosted by Gal Gadot, showcasing Tel Aviv’s attractions.

In between the songs, the Israeli public television broadcaster Kan broadcast “postcards” of Israel, featuring 41 sites around the country, including standards like Masada and the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Haifa’s Bahai Gardens as well as some unusual sites, such as Ashdod Port and Sami Ofer Stadium in Haifa.

“After watching the postcards, even I wanted to tour Israel. I really hope that all the stars line up and we’ll be able to tap the positive momentum that was created,” said Eran Keter, a lecturer in tourism and hotel management at Kinneret Academic College.

But, Keter cautioned that Eurovision alone wouldn’t change the state of tourism in Israel.

Incoming tourism to Eurovision host countries, 2010-2016
World Bank

“With all due respect to the event and media exposure, you have to remember that Israel has had thousands of hours of TV exposure that hasn’t necessarily been positive,” he said. “If we were reliant only on Eurovision, as if it had occurred in a vacuum, to look forward to double-digit tourism growth. But because it’s come in parallel with tensions with Gaza we should curb our enthusiasm.”

In fact, Israel reportedly sought to end a round of fighting with Gaza militants that erupted in early May in order to ensure quiet during Eurovision week. But just to be on the safe side, the army deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries in central Israel.

Yossi Fattal, CEO of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, is more optimistic. He said that fear of war and terrorism has ceased to be a factor for potential visitors. The Eurovision broadcast itself constituted only part of the marketing impact, which he said was amplified greatly in social media.

“The value of the exposure Israel got from the event is equal to half the Tourism Ministry’s annual marketing budget,” said Fattal. “I have no doubt it will bring the same increase in incoming tourism that happened in other host countries in past years.

“Everyone who was here – even if we’re talking about only 10,000 visitors from abroad – will influence public opinion. Each one isn’t just an ordinary tourist but one who touches tens of thousands of other potential tourists. It has an enormous economic impact,” Fattal said.

In fact, Israel has been enjoying record tourism and growth has been higher than the worldwide average. Last year, some 4.1 million visitors came to Israel, an increase of 14% from 2017 and 42% from 2016.

It will be hard to match that, even with a Eurovision boost, according to World Bank figures that measured the increase in tourism for Eurovision hosts since 2010. The increase ranged from as little as 2% for Denmark after it hosted Eurovision 2014 to as much as 7% for Germany after it staged the 2011 contest.

In the months leading up to Eurovision Israel, there were expectations that the Tourism Ministry would lead a campaign to attract visits for the event and make sure journalists covering the contest saw the best of Israel. The ministry came under sharp criticism for failing to do that, and leaving much of that job to the Tel Aviv municipality.

One source claims the ministry did its job but preferred to let Tel Aviv lead the effort, while staying in the shadows.

The ministry helped the city in preparing leaflets for visitors and providing courses in tourism services and gave press tours for visiting journalists.

It also reached a deal to use the Eurovision logo and postcards for tourism marketing the rest of this year.

The ministry said its participation in the tourism campaign was delayed due to legal obstacles to signing an agreement with Kan, the Israeli public television broadcaster that staged the event.

“We would have been happy if the contract had been signed three months earlier and then we could have planned everything in advance, but it didn’t happen,” said a ministry source. Referring to the maximum 12 points a Eurovision contestant can win from a country jury, he said: “We ended up coming out with a ‘Douze Points’ campaign without the Eurovision logo, just so we didn’t miss the boat.”

In any case, the Douze Points video, which starred Shir Elmaliach and Sagi Braitner and cost 5.7 million shekels ($1.6 million), got more than 50 million views across various media platforms.

Now with the logo and other material in hand, the ministry plans to go whole hog by using it as the centerpiece of its long-running City Break campaign touting short vacations in Israel.

“In the coming month we’ll be running a television campaign all over Europe at the cost of tens of millions of shekels that will pitch in City Break holiday marketing Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as a single package,” said Moshe Midan, who is in charge of tourism marketing at the Israel Government Advertising Agency.

Tel Aviv Expo also hopes to get a boost from Eurovision for convention and conference tourism, which is a $27 billion global business.

“When they return to their home countries and talk about the great convention they were at and how they enjoyed the location and the city – it reverberates,” said CEO Tamir Dayan. “Convention tourism makes more money than other tourism – they say even three times more. They stay longer in their destination city, come with spouses and they are great ambassadors.”

Dayan said Israel’s successful staging of Eurovision shows that the country can pull off major international events. “Now if we go to a [global] cardiologist association and they will see they can do a convention here – it’ll be easier for us to stage a successful event,” he said.