It is somewhat out of the ordinary for The New York Times Travel section to devote two feature articles to a single city within a three-month span. It is even more surprising that the pieces did not focus on a tourism capital like London, Paris or Rome, but instead on a city in the Middle East. Yet, it has happened — to Tel Aviv.
A recent Times article devoted to Tel Aviv noted that a multitude of art galleries have helped transform the city into one of the world’s cultural capitals, especially for the plastic arts. This article joins a stream of pieces, published during the past year in leading newspapers and magazines, that paint Israel — particularly Tel Aviv — as the “next hot destination” for culture, lifestyle, tourism, fashion, and architecture.
Why Tel Aviv? Why right now? There’s no one easy answer; a number of factors have combined to raise the profile of Tel Aviv in the American mindset. Most importantly, people have begun to realize that the city meets — and even exceeds — the standards by which a city is judged to be in the cultural vanguard.
Those of us responsible for promoting Israel’s image currently face a dilemma: Do we invest our limited financial resources in improving American public opinion, which already recognizes and values Israeli culture and lifestyle? Or, are we better off devoting these resources to locales where our national image takes a beating on a daily basis?
This dilemma takes on greater significance during a period like the present economic downturn. Hasbara (public relations) organizations, which have helped us in years past, are themselves facing reduced donations due to the current economic environment. These partner organizations have assisted us not only in the field of public diplomacy, but also in promoting topics that portray Israel as a normal, vibrant and modern society.
The coming year marks Tel Aviv’s centennial, an occasion that provides an outstanding opportunity to promote the city’s cultural and lifestyle offerings. To those responsible for Israel’s image, Tel Aviv represents much of what we want the world to know about us, but of which many remain unaware. The city, like Israel, is cosmopolitan, multicultural, intellectual, open, hip and fun.
So we need to give a lot of attention to the way we deal with both the challenge and the celebration. On one hand, the economic crisis has engendered real difficulties for hasbara organizations and philanthropic bodies. On the other, the centennial celebrations for Tel Aviv present an unparalleled opportunity to present the modern, contemporary and creative sides of Israel.
In addition, it is important to maintain the buzz of our campaign even during this economic downturn. In the marketing field, buzz refers to making a specific brand exciting and captivating to an audience, while a “trend” refers to a brand’s longer-term popularity. In order for a branding project to succeed, it must generate buzz; as conversation increases, the brand name gains enough traction to exist on its own as a trend.
The same thing is true about the “Tel Aviv” brand. The city is already on the world map of cultural and lifestyle destinations. To maintain our momentum, people need to keep talking about the city, journalists need to keep up the stream of articles, and leading cultural and lifestyle figures need to visit. Only by amplifying the buzz around the brand name of Tel Aviv can we ensure that at some future point the city — and Israel as a whole — will become a brand name that can stand on its own.
Much of the promotion in which we have engaged targets a population often referred to as the “sophisticated segment.” This sector comprises members of the upper class with high buying power who are constantly searching for new and promising destinations for tourism, culture and lifestyle. Members of this “sophisticated segment” have maintained their lifestyles — even if they have suffered in previous economic downturns — and remain consumers of all forms of culture.
London and Paris have been recognized as cultural capitals of the globe and no longer require reinforcement of their brands; the same will certainly happen to Tel Aviv. We should not delude ourselves, however; such brand-name status is not our present situation. Therefore it is important that all of us who care about Israel’s image continue our efforts during these days of economic crisis. We must find ways to bring the innovation, creativity and culture that characterize the vibrancy of Israeli society to the attention of the public the world over.
David Saranga is the consul for media and public affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York.
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