Israeli commercial capital is big on retail and its airport aims to capture some of that reputation
Just as Israel is ramping up its tourism profile and promoting Tel Aviv as a hedonistic city teeming with nightlife and a liberal atmosphere, its gateway, Ben-Gurion International Airport, has become a shopping paradise that is almost unrivalled in the region. It is ranked among the top 15 hubs for duty free sales globally and, in the Middle East, only Dubai International outdoes it in terms of turnover.
Since 2004, when Terminal 3 was opened, Ben Gurion has had a strong commercial offer to tempt departing passengers. Given the very stringent security in place at the airport it is not surprising that retail might be seen by the airport authority as a way to diffuse the stress that passengers face as they are processed. Getting to the departure lounge is usually a relief, and a time to chill out and relax with a spot of retail therapy!
T3 is our focus here as this is where almost all international flights are handled. It has quite a few shops in both the landside and airside areas. In the former, the stores are called Buy & Bye and arranged in an orderly row where travellers and non-travellers alike can shop. Books and newspapers are sold at Steimatzky, fashion accessories and lingerie can be found at Michal Negrin and Jack Koba respectively, and Hatav Hashmini sells CDs and DVDs. There are also international brand here including Diesel and Swarovski.
But it is the main departures hall, designed in a large circle called the Rotunda, where the really tempting stuff can be found. The main duty free concessionaire at the airport is James Richardson, and to the left, on entry after security, is a giant superstore that it runs. The beauty section is bright, attractive and inviting while the liquor and wines and confectionery areas all have distinct sections and plenty of special offers and tasting promotions from a very wide selection of brands.
To the right of the Rotunda entrance is a toys store run by Sakal Duty Free. The unit sells the usual array of board games and puzzles as well as gifts for infants and toddlers, but also has multimedia products. Almost opposite, in the centre of the Rotunda, is a watches and jewellery kiosk also operated by Sakal where brands range from Casio, Fossil and Guess to upscale Cartier and Rolex.
In this interior ring, on the opposite side of the watch kiosk, is one of the most unusual stores you are likely to come across in an airport: a coins shop run by the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corp. According to the IGCMC the variety of coins “reflects the richness and variety of the State of Israel”. Each item is designed by an Israeli artist and the products include commemorative issues by the Bank of Israel; state medals of the State of Israel; decorative items and Judaica such as Kiddush cups, Hanukka lamps, candlesticks, and manuscripts.
Back to the outer ring of the Rotunda there is a large electronics shop called Bug Duty Free for serious multimedia enthusiasts. It is claimed to be the largest IT and computer store in Israel and is filled with all the top brands in computers, cameras, TVs, gaming consoles, mobile phones and gadgets.
James Richardson, in conjunction with MGS, also runs a sports fashion store selling everything from Adidas, Nike and Puma to Converse, Diadora and Sketchers. In addition it has a sunglasses section that includes luxury favourites such as Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Emporio Armani, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent.
With the shades and trainers on, more fashion and accessories are a jog away. Jack Koba the underwear and sleepwear specialist, is two doors along, with jeweller and diamonds expert H Stern in between. Then further down there is a colourful children’s fashion store with lots of brands to choose from including keds for Kids, Nike, Polo, Timberland, Quiksilver, O’Neill and Reebok, and beside it is another jewellery and watches store from Sakal.
In the same vicinity, along the corridor to Concourse C, you should drop into the whimsical world of Michal Negrin’s jewellery and fashion items in one of two stores that the brand has at Ben-Gurion. Here you will be transported to something of an Alice In Wonderland type environment. On the other side of this corridor are souvenirs, accessories and ornaments stores from Steimatzky and pure silver products and Juadaica from Hazorfim.
On the food and drink side, the airport is somewhat of a disappointment with essentially fast food operators like McDonalds and Pizza Hut present in the Rotunda - unless you are travelling in business or have paid-for access to the various VIP lounges where the food offer varies.
- Passenger traffic 2010: 12.2 million (11.5 million international)
- Terminals: Three, plus another that is used ad hoc.
- Airlines: Just under 80 of which the biggest (by number of routes) are El Al, Arkia Israel Airlines, Sun d’Or and Israir.
- Worth knowing: The 20-minutes train service from T3 to Tel Aviv and then on to Haifa is a 24-hour operation.