Predictions of 20,000-30,000 overseas tourists for the past week's Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv never materialized. "Globes" tourism correspondent Michal Raz-Chaimovich reported that only an estimated 5,000-7,000 people came to Israel from abroad including the delegations from the 41 participating countries and accompanying journalists. Madonna alone brought a huge entourage including 65 dancers and choir members. Tourists attracted by the event itself were few and far between.
A survey by "Yediot Ahronot" found that the hotel occupancy rate in Tel Aviv over the weekend was 90% while in Airbnb and other apartments it was only 77%.
There was a failed tender to set up a tent city for the thousands who never came, while Tourism Ministry officials had been recommending that the 'overflow' thousands could stay in Herzliya, Netanya and even Jerusalem, which are all relatively close to Tel Aviv.
Inevitably there have been postmortems on the failure to persuade more tourists to come. The high price of tickets for the event itself and exorbitant accommodation prices have been mentioned even though they fell to more realistic levels when it became clear there were less takers than hoped. These prices would certainly have deterred non-Eurovision tourists considering coming to Israel for business or pleasure in mid-May.
But ultimately the failure was to understand that while the Eurovision Song Contest is a hugely popular glitzy distraction, it is essentially armchair TV entertainment, without an army of fans, and it is unlikely that even many of the world's 200 million viewers had the stamina to watch the full 3 hours and 40 minutes of the final from their arcmchairs but probably zapped in and out of the broadcast as it suited them.
Eurovision fans are not like Europe's soccer fans who cross the continent in their thousands to watch matches and certainly not when it is as far as Israel. Even in soccer, top European teams Arsenal and Chelsea are struggling to sell their 12,000 ticket allocation (6,000 per team) for the showpiece Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan later this month because of the distance and the expense.
Moreover while the Eurovision Song Contest, the world's biggest music event, is undoubtedly a stunning if kitschy spectacle, the participants are unknown wannabees and the cultural quality of the music is looked upon disdainfully by the pop music industry itself. Madonna may be an international mega-star but her appearance was only guaranteed at the last minute and she was only singing two songs anyway. By and large it is smaller nations like Israel, Ireland and Sweden that take the competition more seriously. The UK in particular takes pride in coming last.
All this does not mean that Tel Aviv need be disappointed. The semi-finals and spectacular grand final were staged impeccably and the city garnered massive publicity, both from the millions of TV viewers and thousands of media articles. The presence of Madonna, making her first live performance in four years, which even if she was slammed by many critics, only meant that the media coverage extended to North America.
So even if the tens of thousands of tourists did not come to the Eurovision Song Contest itself, the massive media exposure generated, only enhanced Tel Aviv's image, and will likely ensure a future dividend of hundreds of thousands more tourists, attracted by the images they saw from their TV armchairs.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 19, 2019
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