No Eurovision Boost for Tel Aviv’s Restaurants and Bars

Fewer tourists than expected and high prices for hotels and events have kept dining and drinking bills low

The Eurovision Village at Charles Clore Park, Tel Aviv, May 15, 2019.
\ CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

The Eurovision contestants have all arrived in Tel Aviv, as have a lot of delegations, tourists and more than 1,000 journalists to cover the song contest. They’re taking in the sites, but local restaurateurs, café owners and bartenders say the visitors aren’t doing much eating out or drinking.

Based on TheMarker’s interviews with business owners, it seems Tel Aviv eateries have been hit from all sides. On the one hand, the number of Eurovision tourists has failed to meet original expectations. But non-Eurovision tourists and Israelis who would normally be visiting Tel Aviv this week are staying away to avoid the Eurovision crowds that haven’t actually emerged.

Meanwhile, hotel rates remain high, even as they were lowered in the run-up to the song contest, and tickets to the official events, which began on Tuesday and culminate Saturday night, are steep.

“We’re hearing complaints from people and the media about high prices for hotel rooms and Eurovision tickets, so visitors don’t have a lot of money left over to spend,” said one restaurant owner who requested anonymity.

“In addition, tourists who normally come here are afraid the city will be too crowded and even more expensive than usual. In the end we’ve gotten the exact opposite of what we expected. Usually during the spring we hear a lot of foreign languages in Tel Aviv – I really hope that’s the case next week when Eurovision is over.”

A visitor from Frankfurt, who only gave his first name Sören, said ticket prices for the Eurovision final were so steep at 1,200 shekels ($336) that he decided to buy one for the cheaper semifinal. Because hotels were so costly, he’s staying at an Airbnb apartment.

“I’m paying 600 euros [$672] for one week, just a little more than I paid the last time I was here three years ago,” he said. “In general, the prices at restaurants and cafés are higher than in Frankfurt.”

Many restaurant, café and bar owners had hired extra staff, stocked up on supplies and even added tables after getting special permission from the city in anticipation of a swarm of Eurovision visitors. Now they’re saddled with the extra costs and lower revenues.

Ben Shimon, who owns the Tel Aviv restaurant Barbunia, said he wasn’t doing so badly during Eurovision week because he has a large group of regulars. But even so he estimates that traffic is down 10% this month compared with a year ago.

“Last May we saw a lot more tourists in the restaurant, also Israelis,” he said. “In March and April this year we saw increased business, but now of all things it’s down.”

Part of the problem, Shimon said, is that all the main Eurovision events are being held in one location, the Eurovision Village in Charles Clore Park, on the beachfront in the city’s southwest.

But Shai Berman, CEO of the Israel Restaurants Association, said even establishments near the park and on the beach were suffering. That’s because the Eurovision Village includes an Eat Tel Aviv food market that has taken away much of the dining traffic.

Berman denied that restaurants and bars had hurt themselves, much like hotels did, by raising prices ahead of Eurovision.

“Restaurant and bar prices are static,” he said. “They’re not like hotels and airlines that adjust rates according to supply and demand …. If something like that did happen it happened in only few places.”