Analysis

Why Israel Isn't a Preferred Destination for Millennials

Young people don’t want to visit Israel, and Eurovision won’t help. Also, militancy isn't cool

FILE PHOTO: Millennial tourists in the Negev desert in Israel
Nir Slakman

Winning the 2018 Eurovision was a heady moment for Israelis. They know perfectly well that Israel’s image in the world is a problem, but on the other hand, Israel also hosted the three-day 2018 European judo championship in April, and the Giro d’Italia international cycling race in May. In June, Argentina’s soccer team – shortlisted for World Cup champion – will be visiting for a friendly match, and next year Eurovision will be held right here in Jerusalem.

Israelis may fondly think that the world is looking at Israel in a more positive way, but a vast study indicates that at least among millennials, that isn’t so.

The Best Countries index ranks Israel 30th out of 80 countries, unchanged from 2017. The index is a ranking and analysis project by U.S. News & World Report, BAV – a division of Y&R (formerly known as Young & Rubicam), and the Wharton School of business. It is based on polling of 21,000 people in four regions: the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The problem is when the opinion of millennials is measured separately, Israel’s ranking falls, a lot.

BAV and Prof. David Reibstein of Wharton isolated the millennial’s outlook from that massive study. Among millennials in 2018, Israel ranked 49th out of 80 countries. (In 2017, millennials ranked Israel in 48th place.)

Rank in the Best Countries index is based on 65 characteristics divided into nine categories, one being adventure – which U.S. News defines as meaning to what degree the respondent finds a given country “friendly, fun, pleasant climate, scenic, sexy.” Cultural influence, another criterion, means “culturally significant in terms of entertainment, fashionable, happy, has an influential culture, modern, prestigious, trendy”; and there’s “Movers” – “different, distinctive, dynamic, unique.”

In the criterion of “entrepreneurship,” Israel ranked 25th among the general public and 31st among the millennials.

When it comes to “open for business” (“bureaucratic, cheap manufacturing costs, [not] corrupt, favorable tax environment, transparent government practices”), Israel ranked 64th among the general public and last among the millennials.

In the heritage category, (culturally accessible, rich history, great food, many cultural attractions), Israel ranked 29th among the general public and 43rd among millennials. One might think that given Israel’s cultural, religious and historical assets, it would rank higher. Joanna Landau, founder of the Israeli nonprofit association Vibe Israel (which seeks to improve Israel’s image in the world), thinks the low figures stem from utter ignorance of Israel, which in turn is the fault of the Israeli government and the Jewish community for focusing too much on the Palestinian issue and not focusing enough on promoting business, culture and Israel’s strong points as an attractive, relevant destination.

Militancy is not an attraction

What are Israel’s strong points and weak points in millennial eyes? Strong points include militancy (it ranked 3rd of the 80 countries), having religious influence (5), unique (9) and having economic influence (15). But Israel scored very poorly in the very characteristics that might attract people: friendliness (80), cultural accessibility (79), economic convenience (78) and easy mobility (78).

In the “power” category (leader, economically influential, politically influential, strong international alliances, strong military), Israel ranked 8th of the 80 countries among the general public and 9th among millennials, unchanged from last year.

Landau points out that the characteristics attributed to a powerful country aren’t necessarily things millennials appreciate: A strong army, a strong economy and a strong government are not their favorite qualities. In the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, global warming, international terrorism and the disintegration of entire states in the Middle East, along with the power of the banks vis-à-vis the small citizen in many countries around the world, are among the factors that have become a feature of military and economic power.