With two weeks to go until the Eurovision 2019 kicks off in Tel Aviv, thousands of seats to the contest remain unsold.
While seats to the May 18 grand finale disappeared quickly, tickets to both semi-final shows as well as all the live dress rehearsals remain easy to come by.
Such a situation, this close to the start of the competition, is unusual for the international singing competition.
“The situation in Israel is not normal,” said William Lee Adams, Eurovision superfan and founder and editor of the popular Eurovision blog wiwibloggs
. “Tickets to the live shows typically sell out immediately after each wave of tickets is released.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were more than 2,500 seats available for the first semi-final on May 14, and close to 2,000 still unsold for the second semi-final on May 16. Seats are in even more plentiful supply for the dress rehearsals – two for each live show and six in total.
On Tuesday, more than 5,000 seats were available for the second dress rehearsal of the second semi-final show on May 16. The arena itself only holds 7,280 seats – the smallest number of spots available at a Eurovision in years. In order to boost availability, KAN added in a VIP Green Room option for NIS 2,000 a ticket. As of Tuesday around 300 spots remain in that section for the finale, and KAN scrapped the VIP tickets for the semi-finals after low sales.
But a KAN representative said Tuesday that the public broadcaster is not concerned about the situation, and has no intention of lowering the prices for the remaining tickets.
“We’re not worried,” Sharon Ben-David, KAN’s Eurovision spokeswoman, told The Jerusalem Post
. “The hall will be full, we’re not concerned. It will happen. People will buy the tickets. It’s important to us, but we’re optimistic.”
Adams told the Post that the high ticket prices forced many fans to reconsider attending.
“I’ve never seen a situation where there are so many unsold seats this close to the show,” he said. “It’s particularly surprising given that the venue is significantly smaller than in recent years. With lower ticket prices, larger venues have been able to put more bums in seats and much more quickly.”
KAN is selling restricted view tickets to the semi-finals for NIS 500, and normal seats for NIS 1,000-1,250. Remaining tickets to the rehearsal shows range from NIS 150 to NIS 1,250.
“If even Israelis on Israeli salaries aren’t willing to pay these ticket prices, then organizers really need to ask themselves tough questions,” Adams added.
When ticket sales were announced, Eurovision fans reacted with dismay to the high prices. At the time, Ben-David defended the costs as necessary for KAN – which was forced by the government to take out a loan to fund the competition – to cover its expenses.
On Tuesday she noted that tickets for the grand finale sold out within hours, but admitted that sales for the rehearsal shows have been particularly slow.
“People think when you say a rehearsal it’s a rehearsal, but a rehearsal at the Eurovision is a performance in every sense of the word,” Ben-David said. The rehearsal shows – one the evening before and one the afternoon of each live show – are complete run-throughs of the event that are filmed as backup for the live show, and also screened for the jury members to cast their votes. “These shows are a once-in-20-years experience,” she added.
The sluggish ticket sales are indicative of the larger trend: the tourism onslaught Israel expected for the Eurovision is not materializing.
Israeli tourism officials last year estimated that 20,000-30,000 tourists would show up for the week of the competition. But at a press conference earlier in April, that figure was reduced to 10,000. And while hotel prices spiked last year when Tel Aviv was announced as the host city, they’ve dropped back down as reality sets in.
Globes reported on Sunday that hotel prices in the city have fallen, and apartment rentals on AirBnB were still easy to come by.
Initiatives announced by the city to boost hotel availability – including a docked cruise ship and a luxury campground – were scrapped after there was not enough interest.
The Tel Aviv Municipality, aware of the expenses of the city for tourists, announced initiatives last month to price cap certain amenities, offering food for NIS 10 shekel, and to work with cab drivers to stick to metered rates. But it seems that these moves might be too late to counter the city’s reputation.
“Israel is quite expensive for foreigners as a starting point,” said Adams. Compared to many European cities, the flights, hotels and amenities are a considerable expense for tourists. “When you then throw in significantly higher ticket prices for Eurovision, people start to wonder whether it’s worth traveling there at all.”
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