With nearly 25 percent of their annual income at stake, Israeli hoteliers and travel operators across the Jewish state are scrambling to lure American tourists for the Passover vacation period. Last summer’s war in Gaza and the sporadic bursts of violence in Jerusalem during the past few months put a dent in the country’s tourism industry, but there are reasons for optimism in the run-up to Pesach.
According to tourism officials, before the start of the Gaza war, foreign travel to Israel was up 15 percent over 2013. Those numbers, understandably, slipped as the country lost about a half-million tourists, or more than $900 million based on average spending per visitor, in the second half of the year, relative to 2013.
Despite this, reservations for Passover appear to be holding steady.
“Sure, some of our regular clients and potential new customers ask about the security situation, but when it comes to hotels that are located in central Jerusalem, there is very little impact on bookings and in fact the demand remains high,” said Rafi Baeri, the Dan Hotels’ vice president of sales and marketing.
Motti Verses, a spokesman for Hilton Israel hotels, which includes the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem and the Hilton Tel Aviv, agreed: “Traditional and Orthodox visitors from North America will not skip over Jerusalem because Pesach is more than just a vacation period. It is also a religious pilgrimage festival. Based on advance bookings, we are optimistic.”
Meira Goren, a well-known Israeli tour operator who offers a variety of Pesach vacation packages in hotels ranging from suburban Jerusalem to the pastoral Galilee region, added, “As far as I can tell, very little has changed in terms of reservations. As our company caters to a mostly Orthodox clientele, the religious crowds will continue to come to Israel no matter what the security situation might be.”
The variety of quality accommodations and amenities at major Israeli hotels have become major recruiting inducements for American tourists, who can choose between dozens of high-end Pesach programs offered by hotels and tour operators in the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Caribbean.
From Jerusalem to the Galilee
A transformed Jerusalem, including the enduring pull of the Old City and the presence of the restored train station, now dubbed First Station, are natural draws for tourists, and good news for hoteliers. The Dan Panorama and Dan Boutique hotels, Baeri said, “attract large numbers of Americans because of their proximity to attractions such as the Old City and the ‘Tachana’ [First Station], which has been transformed into a great venue for shows, shopping, eating etc.”
The chain’s King David Hotel in Jerusalem, he added, lures back many families for Pesach. “In a number of cases, we are talking about multi-generational repeat clients. As the children of parents who regularly came to the hotel have now become adults themselves, they have continued the tradition of returning to the hotel for the holiday.”
Over at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, e-commerce manager Joanne Odes promises a “special holiday atmosphere” along with such amenities as renovated rooms, fully equipped swimming pool, fitness room and sauna, children’s club for kids of all ages and a gourmet Pesach menu.”
The new kid on the block in Jerusalem, the ornate Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, which opened its doors in the spring, has been actively promoting itself as “the new standard of luxury accommodations in Israel.”
The Hilton’s Verses promised that the hotel’s seders, set in its ballroom, “will be one of the most prestigious events in the city.”
For tourists in search of serenity in pastoral settings, Goren Tours highlights an array of “out of the way” hotels. “There are growing numbers of tourists who don’t want to spend Pesach in mid-city hotels where thousands of guests are on top of each other,” said Goren Tours’ Meira Goren. She offers “smaller hotels in the mountains or among kibbutzim where there’s lots of fresh air, open spaces and many historical and cultural sites to visit.” Day trips with a sense of adventure are also available, she said.
Among the hotels that Goren Tours features are the Kfar Blum Hotel in the Upper Galilee, where guests can cascade in rafts along the nearby Jordan River; the Hagoshrim Kibbutz and Resort Hotel, which faces the Golan Heights and Mt. Hermon and the new Cramim Resort; and Spa hotel, a luxury facility built by the Isrotel chain in the Judean Mountains amid lush wine vineyards.
Two other facilities in Northern Israel have also attracted interest among English-speaking tourists from North America.
During the past decade, the Kinar Galilee Hotel, located along the banks of Lake Kinneret (opposite the city of Tiberias) has become a popular vacation spot for Anglos living in Israel who wish to spend a quiet Shabbat or summer vacation at the gateway to the Galilee and Golan Heights regions. The positive feedback to relatives back in the U.S. spurred additional bookings for the holidays, bar mitzvahs and summer vacations. “We are proud of the fact that more and more English-speaking families are coming to our hotel from the U.S. for Pesach and all year around. They have discovered the beauty of the region and the inviting atmosphere that permeates throughout the hotel,” said Yael Eliya Madai, the hotel’s spokeswoman. “We offer a variety of indoor and outdoor activities for adults and children, well-known rabbis that offer inspiring lectures in English and Hebrew, as well as one of the top culinary experiences during Pesach.”
Zichron Yaakov, the picturesque Northern Israeli town located on a mountaintop overlooking the inviting Mediterranean, now features one of the country’s most off-beat, luxury hotels. The Elma is a new boutique facility that has been built amid a cultural complex, highlighted by an art gallery and concert hall. Guests can choose from rooms in the main building or two-bedroom cottages. As Zichron Yaakov already features a fast-growing Anglo community, the hotel believes that American tourists will be intrigued by the new facility. The Elma will feature special packages for the Pesach holiday and summer 2015 tourist seasons. ✦
A new kosher hotel and resort, the 92-room Victoria Kaprun, located in the picturesque Kaprun/Zell am See ski region of Austria, will soon be opening its doors to guests who wish to experience a unique Pesach holiday and summer vacation in Europe.
The hotel’s complex features a modern-designed glass bridge with the main building offering a bar, restaurant, Spa & Wellness area, Karaoke bar, conference room and more. The main building also is home to 30 superior rooms, three deluxe rooms, seven junior suites and 10 apartments that can accommodate two to six people. The adjoining building features 38 economy rooms and two apartments that can accommodate two to four people.
In the evenings during the holiday, the Victoria Kaprun will showcase a restaurant with an open live grill. (Kosher supervision is by Kedassia [Badatz]). The Pesach holiday services will be led by renowned Chazan Tzudik Grunvald and the Zimroh Choir.
The spa area includes an indoor pool, Finnish sauna, steam bath, and Jacuzzi. The outdoor activities range from visiting the famous Kitzsteinhorn glacier to skiing at Schmitten in Zell am, as well as hiking, bicycling and golf. There is also a kid’s room and daily entertainment for children.
Avi Fine, the Victoria Kaprun’s spokesperson, added, “The hotel will feature 92 impeccably designed rooms and highlight Kedassia (Badatz) kosher supervision, one of the most respected in England and Europe. This is a completely refurbished facility that will enable guests to enjoy one of the most unique vacations during the forthcoming Pesach holiday and summer vacation seasons.” ✦