One transformed a neglectED
Bauhaus-style Tel Aviv building that was the home of the old Esther Cinema. Another, in the mystical city of Safed, is built upon ancient Roman foundations. Still another showcases the work of local Israeli artists.
They are all so-called boutique hotels, and over the past 10 years, these intimate, uniquely designed properties have ridden the less-is-more hotel trend. Since 2000, Israeli entrepreneurs have invested in renovating neglected properties, transforming them into trendy lifestyle oases that are attracting couples and business travelers from all over the world.
For years, the Israeli tourism industry featured dozens of small humdrum “inns” and rundown hotels that were controlled by largely absentee owners who divorced themselves from emerging global tourism trends. That was until Tel Aviv hotelier Leslie Adler, who co-founded the Atlas Hotel chain in 1988, recognized the boutique hotel trend in the United States and England and decided to tweak the concept for the Israeli market.
“My partner, Danny Lipman, and I realized that the concept of just selling a night to a potential tourist had become outmoded. The trend in the hotel world was towards selling a unique experience,” Adler recalled.
At the height of the second intifada in 2000-2001, Adler and Lipman decided to rent and then redesign a neglected Bauhaus-style building that had once housed the old Esther Cinema, in the heart of Tel Aviv. The end result was the 82-room Cinema Hotel, which promotes the nostalgia of watching a good flick in the heart of Israel’s cultural capital. The hotel preserved the Esther Cinema’s original projectors and movie posters, using them as props in the lobby, where guests can indulge themselves by watching classical movies and munching on free popcorn.
“It wasn’t easy to open a hotel in Israel during the second intifada, when incoming tourism had dramatically fallen off,” Adler said. “But when we opened the Cinema Hotel, the amount of positive buzz generated by the media almost immediately made the hotel the ‘in’ place to stay. We knew that foreign tourism would bounce back and that a sizeable number of tourists from all over the world were interested in something more than staying in a room that featured the best furniture. They were looking to see, hear and experience something new and different.”
Even 10 years after its lavish debut, the Cinema Hotel is still considered a hot tourist commodity, having been ranked as one of the best hotels by the renowned Expedia Insider’s List.
It didn’t take long for the Atlas chain to push the envelope and redesign other properties throughout Tel Aviv, with each boutique hotel featuring a different theme. The 55-room Melody Hotel, which is located directly across from the beach promenade and aimed at business travelers, promotes what hotel officials call a “work and play” atmosphere. The 62-room ArtPlus Hotel showcases modern murals painted by local Israeli artists. It was recently ranked as the No. 1 hotel in Tel Aviv by the noted tourism website Trip Advisor.
In Jerusalem, Atlas redesigned a brand-new building in the heart of the popular Ben Yehuda Street/Nahalat Shiva downtown promenade, commissioning local artists to produce video art and photographic montages that would encourage visiting guests to learn about the history and culture of the Holy City. Similar to its sister hotels in Tel Aviv, the 48-room Harmony Hotel offers guests a wide range of free amenities including a “Happy Hour” with snacks and beverages, PCs in the lobby and WiFi access.
Other hotel chains have quickly followed suit. In Tel Aviv, the Tamares Hotel chain recently opened the West Tel Aviv all suites hotel, which has 65 rooms that overlook North Tel Aviv’s Tzuk Beach. The curved balconies were designed to “echo the waves of the Mediterranean Sea,” says the hotel. West Tel Aviv also features a spa, sauna, outdoor pool and health club. A full-service Business Lounge is geared towards the growing number of business travelers who wish to conduct their meetings in the hotel without having to deal with the traffic jams in central Tel Aviv.
In Jerusalem, the Dan Hotels chain has received rave reviews from tourists and business travelers for its transformation of a former budget hotel facility into the Dan Boutique. The 129-room hotel, which is located opposite Mt. Zion and within walking distance of the German Colony, the city’s chic restaurant and café district, also features impeccably designed rooms, a fitness center and a well-stocked bar.
The fast-growing Rimonim hotel chain claims that its 88-room Ruth Rimonim facility in the heart of Safed, in northern Israel, is perhaps the most unique hotel in Israel. “This is an ancient site, whose foundation dates back to the Roman-era,” said a Rimonim spokeswoman. “We have refurbished the original part of the hotel and created a new wing that is a replica of the original hotel. The Ruth Rimonim offers history, intimacy and the beauty of the Galilee. Guests in the dining room not only have a bird’s-eye view of the picturesque Mt. Meron, they can also relax next to a fireplace in our many intimate corners.” In order to acquaint guests with the history of Safed, the hotel offers a free walking tour every week before the start of Shabbat. The spokeswoman added that the “mystical atmosphere” of Safed has spurred them to also offer Kabbalah-themed vacation packages during the calendar year.