Jerusalem — Realizing the value of attracting millennial-aged tourists, some Israeli municipalities and organizations are creating specialized programs just for them.
Born between the early-1980s and the mid-1990s (though some define a wider period), tourists from this age group “are influencers,” said Ilanit Melchior, tourism director of the city of Jerusalem, which recently launched a campaign to woo this largely untapped demographic.
Melchior said the city has reached out to millennials because they are adventurous travelers who share their experiences on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“They have the power to influence via social media. They’re changing the image of Jerusalem.”
Melchior said tourists in their 20s and 30s “want to have fun. They’re much more interested in meeting local people, finding the city’s hidden gems. They want to really experience the city — they’re foodies — and not do what everyone else is doing.”
Which is why they like to hang out in the Mahane Yehuda market, for example, which boasts not only the freshest produce but also some of the trendiest bars and restaurants in the country.
“They’re taking pictures of happy young faces and sharing them with the world” via social media, Melchior said. They experience and portray Jerusalem “as a normal travel destination,” and not a city plagued by terrorism.
The Jerusalem Development Authority recently introduced a package of discounts aimed at millennials in their 20s and 30s to help them stay at the city’s trendy but less-expensive hotels and hostels and sample festivals, events, restaurants, bars and historical sites on a budget.
The package includes a free walking tour, a free drink, a half-price culinary tour, a 15 percent discount on participating hostels and hotels as well as 50 percent off a companion ticket to the Tower of David Museum’s/David Citadel’s sound and light show. Those visiting Jerusalem in early July were offered a coveted free ticket to the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism recently introduced Two Cities One Break (http://en.citiesbreak.com/program), a whirlwind adventure package geared toward European millennials that combines the nightlife and beaches of Tel Aviv with the culture, history and charm of Jerusalem. The ministry will soon be offering Incredible Vacation, a similar but longer program to U.S. millennials.
Although it’s possible to add on visits to places like the Dead Sea or Caesarea, the marketing campaign is centered on the country’s two largest cities.
“Visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv gives you a whole, full experience,” said Amir Halevi, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism. “In Tel Aviv you have the beach and the fun and the nightlife, while in Jerusalem there’s also great nightlife, but there is also the Kotel, the ancient architecture. There’s social tourism in Jerusalem, where people who live here — especially women of different ethnicities — open their homes and share their food and lifestyle. Millennials are seeking an authentic experience. They want to meet real people.”
The idea is to get the younger generation to think of Israel as a destination. Like Melchior, Halevi appreciates the influence millennials wield. “If they have a good experience they’ll share it on social media and their friends see it in a matter of seconds.”
Writing in Forbes, Jeff Fromm, an expert on millennials’ interests and spending habits, said for this demographic “travel doesn’t just stand for getting from one place. … Traveling is a part of their identity — a vital experience that helps them understand, grow and continuously reinvent their sense of self.”
One such way is through “voluntourism,” or social impact tourism, which offers tourists a way to experience “personal growth” while they make a difference, Fromm said.
Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of Leket, Israel’s national food bank, told The Jewish Week that millennials and the travel groups that cater to them like to volunteer with Leket because “they don’t just want to see, they want to do.”
“The issues of food waste and food security speak to them,” Gitler said. The fact that millennials are young, energic and don’t mind getting their hands dirty in the process of changing the world for the better makes them a good match for Leket, he said.
“When I was a child my parents told me to clean my plate because there were children starving in Ethiopia. Thank God Israel doesn’t have the same food shortages that Haiti has, for example, but people — especially young people — want to get involved and help feed poor Israelis.”
Leket’s volunteers — there were 56,000 last year — pick produce in the fields and/or sort and pack food for the neediest sectors of Israeli society. Leket is one of the few Israeli charities that can host large groups of volunteers, including Birthright groups.
Gitler said he recently received a call from a New Yorker in his 20s who had just left his job and was planning to attend business school.
“He had some time between work and school and said, ‘This is my opportunity to come and learn.’ He’ll dedicate three weeks to Leket, going out in our trucks to the warehouse, to pick vegetables in our fields. He’ll help us and become an ambassador.”
Unlike some older donors who contribute to causes sight-unseen, millennial donors often delve deeply into a charity’s work and finances, Gitler said.
“It’s not just ‘We’ve heard good things about Leket.’ They want to see our financial statements, to see things happening on the ground. If they like what they see you make a friend for life.”