The minute Hamas’ rockets started appearing in the skies above Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in late June, Israeli hotel owners and tourism industry officials began planning for the tourist landscape at war’s end.
The fighting in Gaza cut into what was shaping up to be the best year ever for foreign tourism, with bookings up nearly 10 percent over last year, according to both the Israel Hotel Association and the Ministry of Tourism. In 2013, nearly 3 million tourists stayed in local hotels and flocked to attractions across the country.
But the success of the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system wasn’t convincing enough for foreign tourists, who hadn’t come to Israel to experience surrealistic air raid siren warnings, followed by adrenalin-filled rocket shoot-down displays. Within hours after rockets started landing in central Israel, international airline carriers began to methodically cancel flights from North America and Europe. (The Federal Aviation Administration eventually cancelled all U.S. flights into and out of Tel Aviv for a 48-hour period last month.) Tel Aviv’s well-known beachfront four- and five-star luxury hotels, which are usually overflowing with tourists from the U.S., United Kingdom and France in July, were more than half-empty. As the fighting dragged on, a worrying wave of cancellations were also recorded for August, the height of the summer tourist season.
Several hotels in Jerusalem reported that tourists who had already arrived in Israel during the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, the name of Israel’s incursion into Gaza, did not change their plans and leave earlier than expected; the reason may have been that the sound of air raid sirens was far less frequent there than in Tel Aviv. Three of Jerusalem’s main tourist attractions — the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall, the Jaffa Street outdoor market (“the shuk”) and the high-end Mamilla shopping promenade — still drew a respectable number of English- and French-speaking tourists, officials say.
But the hotel and tourism industry suffered a severe financial shock to the system, given that the summer season accounts for about 40 percent of the annual income of most Israeli hotels and tourism attractions. The Israel Hotel Association (IHA) has estimated that the hotel tourism industry will have lost over $100 million in bookings during July and early August. The IHA added that the entire tourism industry, ranging from airlines and hotels, to museums, restaurants, etc., could lose up to $500 million by the end of the year if bookings do not bounce back in time for the fall and winter vacation seasons.
Israel Tourist and Travel Association’s director, Yossi Fattal, told the Israeli business daily Globes, “60 seconds after the war is over, Israeli tourists are back to business as usual. Foreign tourists, on the other hand, have a long memory.”
Despite the current gloomy picture, Rafi Baeri, vice president of sales and marketing for the popular Dan Hotels chain, remains optimistic, especially for the forthcoming Sukkot holiday season; that’s when tens of thousands of English-speaking tourists from North America and the UK, many of them repeat customers, usually jam hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzliya and beyond.
“Given that the situation will go back to normal very soon, we believe there will be only a marginal effect on numbers for Sukkot,” said Baeri. He said that the King David Hotel in Jerusalem is “already fully booked for Sukkot.”
With that in mind, what follows is a list of various hotels across Israel offering deals for the late summer and fall holiday seasons:
• Dan Hotels (www.danhotels.com): According to Baeri, the most popular hotels that are frequented by Americans are located in Jerusalem. Despite an impressive number of bookings for Sukkot at The King David and Dan Panorama in Jerusalem, various deals on rooms at the popular Dan Jerusalem Hotel are still available.
• Inbal Jerusalem Hotel (www.inbalhotel.com): The legendary five-star hotel, located adjacent to Liberty Bell Park, has been a mecca for many New York-area tourists who wish to celebrate Sukkot in an architecturally striking sukkah. The hotel offers a wide variety of holiday packages for couples and families with children. Prices start from around $3,400 per couple for five nights (including four holiday meals) to $6,611 per couple for a lavish 10-day package (that includes eight holiday meals). The hotel also features special family suites for those who wish to celebrate the holiday in a private sukkah overlooking the Old City.
• Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel (www.sheratontelaviv.com): For Sukkot, the hotel highlights a prepayment package — one-night stay for two people in their deluxe category starting from $315, including breakfast and WiFi. The hotel also offers deals on three-night stays or more, where guests are entitled to a 10 percent discount. The hotel features a Sukkot dinner prepared by Chef Charlie Fadida, one of Israel’s top chefs, that will be served in the Sheraton Sukkah, which overlooks the beach. Prices for the dinner start from around $110 per person, including wine and soft drinks.
• Rimonim Hotels (www.rimonim.com): Four of the up-and-coming chains hotels are offering a variety of package deals for the forthcoming holiday season. Its most luxurious facility, the Galei Kinnereth Hotel, located along the banks of the Sea of Galilee in Tiberias, is offering deals starting from $500 per night (per couple) on a half-board basis. At the Royal Rimonim Dead Sea, a modern-designed facility, couples can enjoy a stay starting from $328 on a bed-and-breakfast basis. If you wish to enjoy the beauty of the Red Sea Riviera, the Rimonim Eilat Hotel features accommodations starting from $369 per couple on a bed-and-breakfast deal. If you want to experience the mystic beauty of Safed, the boutique Ruth Rimonim Hotel offers couples rates starting from $300, based on a bed-and-breakfast package.