Offices are empty, but the beach is busy in Tel Aviv

Every e-mail seems to elicit an “on vacation” auto-reply. Where has everyone gone? The answer seems clear: abroad.

Tourists cool off at Tel Aviv beach (photo credit: Niv Elis)
Tourists cool off at Tel Aviv beach
(photo credit: Niv Elis)
The clock on the wall ticks slowly. The office is quiet. Every email seems to elicit an “on vacation” auto-reply, and phone calls go straight to voicemail.
Where has everyone gone? The answer seems clear: abroad.
This August, Ben-Gurion Airport is on track to break records with the number of monthly travelers passing through its gates. Although the final count isn’t in, projections put the number through the end of the month at 1.15 million travelers, according to the Airports Authority.
The airport, however, does not distinguish between passengers whose round-trips originate in Israel and those who began abroad. But Israelis taking a final break as the dog days of August wear on seem to be pushing the trend forward.
Issta, an Israeli travel agency, says it has seen 10-percent growth in the summer months of July and August, though many of those trips were booked ahead of time.
“It wasn’t too hot a summer, that wasn’t why people left,” said Ronen Karasso, Issta’s director of marketing.
A different possible motivator: the exchange rate.
“The strong shekel is very helpful, because the prices come down,” Karasso said.
While exporters may not like the shekel’s value against the dollar dipping past a twoyear low, it certainly makes it easier for vacationers to pay for plane tickets, whose prices have gone up some 15%, not to mention hotel rooms, food and souvenirs abroad.
With the exchange rate down from about NIS 4 to the dollar last August to NIS 3.57 now, an Israeli tourist taking a $1,500 vacation would save NIS 645 on the exchange rate alone. That might explain why more tourists headed to Europe rather than take a domestic trip.
“This year people decided to go abroad at the expense of Eilat,” Karasso said.
Yet for all the emptiness in the offices and the working world, the beaches of Tel Aviv remain flooded with tourists.
According to Globes, 261,000 French tourists visit Israel each year, putting them second only to Russians among European tourists, and their numbers are growing. On average, French tourists spend $1,232 per visit to Israel.
Yet the economy may not see the sort of boost from August tourism that one might expect, according to Ami Etgar, head of the Israel Incoming Tour Operator Association.
“The most important months for tourism are May and October, when there are larger numbers of tourists that come to see the whole country, stay at hotels and take tours,” Etgar said.
Many of the summer vacationers have apartments along the coast, and come for simple relaxation instead of sightseeing.
“They stay put mostly in Tel Aviv,” Etgar said.
In fact, there may even be an economic downside to the sizzling summer. With all the revelers enjoying the waves and the sunshine at the beach, and so many colleagues out on vacation, workers may find the summer months less productive.
According to a CareerBuilder survey, over a quarter of workers do.