If it seemed logical that Israelis would flee their country as rockets from Hamas terrorists in Gaza rain down, think again. Not only are Israelis staying home, they’re really staying home. Figures released Tuesday by El Al Israel Airlines and parking app Pango show foreign travel is down, and so is parking — an indication that Israelis aren’t even driving downtown, much less flying to faraway places.
That’s bad news for the airline. In a statement Tuesday, El Al said that it expects revenue to fall by $40-$50 million in the third quarter, as individuals and groups cancel planned trips in the wake of the daily rocket attacks on Israeli cities. The conflict in Gaza, the airline said, has had a major impact on El Al’s already precarious financial situation.
Already at the beginning of the conflict more than two weeks ago, El Al announced that it would not penalize passengers who wanted to postpone or cancel travel because of the war. At first, the airline said travelers had until last Friday “to cancel their tickets or postpone their departure date for a period no longer than six months without being charged any cancellation fees or flight switching fees. Passengers abroad wishing to come to Israel earlier than their ticket will also not be charged for switching their flights.” That deadline has now been extended at least through the end of this month.
El Al certainly won’t be helped by a travel warning released by the US State Department Monday. It “recommends that US citizens consider the deferral of non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank. The security environment remains complex in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and US citizens need to be aware of the risks of travel to these areas because of the current conflict between Hamas and Israel.” There’s a blanket travel warning from the State Department against travel to Gaza.
While most American tourists don’t need travel warnings to decide to avoid Israel — or to specifically travel here now to show solidarity with the country — the warning was likely to discourage groups that were planning to come to Israel in the coming months, which means Israel could lose lucrative tourism income to other destinations. According to Moshe Mizrahi, who owns a Tel Aviv-based travel agency, “many of the groups that come here in the winter, especially Christmas, book their spaces months in advance, so if the war goes on for a few more weeks, we could see some of these groups that traditionally come to Israel choose other destinations. Israel could lose a lot of that business because of the war.”
According to El Al, the cancellations are coming from both inbound and outbound tourists, as many Israelis families that had planned a summer vacation are cancelling because of war-related issues, such as a family member being called up for reserve duty.
It’s not just international travel that’s being affected. Pango, an Israeli start-up that provides an app that allows drivers to pay parking fees on city streets and in parking lots via their cellphones, reported Tuesday that according to its statistics, parking revenues were down 8% nationwide — and even more in many cities in central and southern Israel, the main targets of rockets from Gaza. The Pango figures were for the first week of the war, July 7 through 14, as compared to the previous week. With the war heating up even more after the 14th, Pango said it expects a further fall in parking payments in its next report.
The fall in parking revenue is even more noticeable because bus routes in many cities in southern Israel have been cut back or eliminated. When there’s less public transportation, there’s usually more driving — but that is not the case in the current conflict, said Roi Elbaz, Pango’s CEO.
“It’s a good example of ‘nesting’ in action,” said Elbaz. “People want to stay near their homes, near their protected spaces, in anticipation of the next rocket attack. They are postponing business and pleasure trips even around town to quieter times. I, along with all Israelis, hope that the situation will return to normal as soon as possible, and the fears of the public about going out will dissipate.”