Small Hotels, Big Returns
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Small Hotels, Big Returns

Niche or ‘concept tourism’ on the rise in Israel.

Israel, like other countries, has an abundance of hotels, and that can make it difficult for tourists to choose the property best suited to their needs.

Hoping to distinguish themselves from the pack, many Israeli hoteliers have tried in recent years to carve out a niche in their crowded industry.

Oren Drori, head of the marketing division of the Israel Ministry of Tourism, said the ministry has been developing niche tourism — what he calls “concept tourism” — for a decade.

“Travelers today are more sophisticated and they are pursing an experience. It can be culinary or related to eco-tourism, cycling, bird watching, going to a spa. Travelers want to get out and experience their surroundings. Their accommodations can be part of that experience.”

Drori said that “there are still plenty of consumers who want traditional hotels and there is room in the market for everyone. Our goal has been to diversity our product and market.”

One of Israel’s most popular niche hotels, the Elma Arts Complex Luxury Hotel, situated atop the hills of Zichron Ya’akov, offers upscale accommodations in an artistic setting (elma-hotel.com).

The Elma provides all the amenities expected of a good hotel: an outdoor swimming pool and indoor lap pool, a fitness center, treatment rooms, Hamam Turkish bath, and gorgeous views of the Mediterranean. Some of the best beaches in Israel are just a few miles away.

In the main building, guest rooms of various sizes all offer sea views. Separate from the main building are freestanding cottages, each of which can serve as either a two-floor unit with two bedrooms or as two independent units for different guests.

What distinguishes the Elma is its commitment to the arts. It boasts two professional concert halls (one with 450 seats) designed by the New York design firm Arup/Artec that offer an average of four concerts per week. There are two large art galleries with more than 500 pieces of art, both paintings and sculptures, created by Israeli and international artists.

Throughout the year, and especially during festivals, dancers, musicians, actors and authors hold interactive master classes, some of them at one of the resort’s four outdoor amphitheaters.

Unlike most other Israeli hotels, the Elma does not offer a meal plan. Rather, guests dine à la carte at the resort’s restaurants.

“Our hotel is a bit of everything,” says Bruno de Schuyter, the Elma’s general manager. “A lot of people come because the hotel is self-sufficient. It is an attraction in and of itself. It’s impossible to be bored here.”

The concerts, Schuyter says, range from classical “to rock-y to bluesy to jazzy.”

Bayit Bagalil Spa Hotel (orchidhotels.co.il) is for luxury travelers who want to get away from it all. Located in the verdant upper Galilee in northern Israel and part of the Orchid Hotel chain, it offers big-hotel amenities (outdoor pool, spa, tennis courts, private jacuzzis and high-quality cuisine) but, with only 34 rooms, also a feeling of intimacy and privacy.

The hotel “is in the heart of a forest, and the atmosphere is infused with nature,” said Sharon Gideoni, the hotel’s sales and marketing manager. Thanks to Bayit Bagalil’s imposing stone buildings, she said, “guests feel like they’re in a castle.” The rooms are elegant and unusually large, with adjoining sitting rooms.

The resort’s town of Hazor Haglilit is a short drive from Rosh Pina, a small town filled with good restaurants and boutique shops. It takes 20 minutes to drive to Safed, the home of Jewish mysticism. That white-stone city is filled with picturesque winding alleyways where renowned Judaic artists live and work.

The hotel accepts children 15 and under only during summer vacation and certain holidays.

The Market House Hotel (atlas.co.il/market-house-hotel-tel-aviv-israel) in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, is a hot destination for locals and tourists; it offers small-hotel comfort in a picturesque urban setting.

One of the Atlas hotels — the leading boutique hotel chain in Israel www.atlas.co.il — it draws on Jaffa’s dual Arab/Jewish identities and on its importance as an ancient port city.

It was through Jaffa that King David and King Solomon, his son, brought the cedars used in the construction of the First Temple. The port was subsequently a strategic stronghold for the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Phoenicians, among others.

The Market House Hotel was built (in an archaeologically respectful way) atop the remains of an excavated eighth-century Byzantine church, which are visible through the hotel’s clear-glass floor in the lobby.

The hotel’s décor manages to be both modern but evocative of the past.

“It was designed by clever people who studied in the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design,” said Uri Kronkop, the Atlas chain’s marketing and sales director. “The many colors evoke the market, which is right outside, but there is also a lot of cream coloring, a lot of wood, and the ceiling is open.”

Kronkop said the Market House was built “to give guests the soul of Jaffa.” The complementary breakfast, he said, “is full of the tastes you would find in Jaffa’s streets and restaurants.”

The breakfast includes the hotel chef’s own green shakshouka (a delicious tomato, vegetable and egg dish), a specially blended humous, locally inspired desserts and a wide variety of fish.

The fish is a tribute to the fishermen who can be seen fishing every day in small boats docked in Jaffa port.

Venturing out of the hotel, guests can use the beach-front promenade to walk or cycle up to Tel Aviv: better still, explore Jaffa’s many restaurants, clothing boutiques and art and jewelry galleries.

Jaffa is part Arab, part Jewish, part working class and part gentrified. In short, a worthwhile place to explore.

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