First, the good news: The Israel Hotel Association reported that foreign tourism in 2011 nearly paralleled 2010’s record-breaking season, when close to 3.5 million visitors flocked to the Holy Land.
Now, the bad news: The Arab Spring and the ongoing economic turmoil in the Euro Zone continue to take their toll on travel to Israel.
Ami Federman, president of the Israel Hotel Association and vice-chairman of the Dan Hotel chain, put his finger on Israel tourism’s split personality. “We have maintained stability in the number of hotel stays and occupancy during a turbulent year, and that’s a nice accomplishment,” he said. “However, the security-related developments in the region, as well the financial uncertainty mainly in Europe, are an ongoing cause for concern.”
Stas Misezhnikov, Israel’s tourism minister, agreed. He said at a recent press conference in Jerusalem that, in fact, 2011 was actually “a hard year for tourism in Israel.” The reason? Many tourists and tour groups choose “regional destinations” rather than a single country. “The geopolitical situation around us,” Misezhnikov said, “especially in Egypt, where tourism is almost nonexistent right now, deprived us of hundreds of thousands of visitors who would ordinarily come from the Sharm el-Sheikh resorts in the Sinai, enter through the border at Eilat and go to other parts of Israel for one-day trips.”
The owners of several top Israeli hotels in Jerusalem and Tiberias also claimed that a substantial number of tour groups comprised of religious pilgrims and middle-class families, who ordinarily would have visited Israel as part of a Holy Land tourism “trifecta” consisting of Egypt, Jordan and Israel, simply disappeared in 2011 because of the regional instability. A hotel general manager added, “It makes no difference that Israel was an oasis of stability. Tour operators, who offer regional packages that include Egypt and Jordan, cannot break them up, because the consumer is looking for a specific, once-in-a-lifetime vacation experience.”
According to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, the largest number of tourists who came to Israel in 2011 were from the U.S., with nearly 600,000 visitors. Jerusalem’s religious and historical significance beat out Tel Aviv’s pulsating cultural allure and picturesque beachfront, with 80 percent of all incoming tourists preferring the Holy City; 66 percent favored Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem also became the “preferred” choice for an internationally renowned hotel marketing chain to add a five-star hotel to its roster of high-end properties. The Inbal Jerusalem Hotel announced that the Preferred Hotel Group chose the facility to become part of the internationally renowned Preferred Hotels & Resorts collection of “ultimate luxury” hotels.
Inbal Jerusalem’s general manager, Bruno de Schuyter, also revealed that the hotel will begin a multimillion-dollar interior and exterior redesign. A new lobby entrance, redesigned room and state-of-the-art bathrooms will be part of the makeover, he said.
During the late winter period, a large number of hotels focus their energies on sprucing up their facilities and luring English-speaking tourists to their early spring Pesach programs. Here’s a rundown of some of what’s on tap at some of Israel’s top hotels:
Inbal Jerusalem Hotel (wwww.inbalhotel.com). There are a variety of Pesach programs to choose from, including “8 plus 1 complimentary night,” when booking eight consecutive nights. The deal also includes five elegant holiday meals plus a lavish seder. You can also choose from a four-night package during the first part of the holiday or a “last days” of Pesach, four-night night deal. On tap are holiday lectures by Rabbi Ari Berman, (formerly of Manhattan’s Jewish Center synagogue); an appearance by best-selling author and ex-Jerusalem Post editor, Hirsh Goodman; and a multimedia-enhanced Kids Club.
Sheraton TA Hotel & Towers (www.sheratontelaviv.com). An international team of architects, fashion, interior and graphic designers has created a new ambience on the third floor by expanding the number of accommodation units as well as the reconfiguration of small meeting and conference areas. The new business rooms will have a modular, multi-functional hall that can be divided into four separate 50-square-foot meeting areas, each with its own audio-visual equipment — Barco projector, screens, bulletin boards and coffee break stations. In addition, all of the new rooms will feature a shower stall instead of a bathtub.
David InterContinental Tel Aviv (www.Intercontinental.com). The global InterContinental Hotels Group (of which the David InterContinental is a part) is one of they key sponsors of the forthcoming Summer Olympic Games in London. As such, the David InterContinental hotel will be involved in different sports-themed activities throughout the year, including being a sponsor of the local Tel Aviv Marathon on March 30. The hotel also announced that four of their senior staff members, were chosen to work in the Olympic Village’s IHG hotel facilities, which will host thousands of athletes during the Games. The David InterContinental is the only IHG hotel that will send four of its members to the Olympic Village facility. For business savvy travelers the hotel has also introduced a downloadable global concierge app, which can be found on the hotel’s website.
Dan Hotels (www.danhotels.com). The chain is offering a variety of late winter deals, as well as Pesach packages. Several hotels, including the Dan Panorama in Jerusalem, the Dan Accadia in Herzliya and the posh Dan Tel Aviv attract many North American and British guests during the holiday. The Dan Tel Aviv is featuring a special offer for guests staying 11 nights or more within the April 5-16 holiday period, with the night of the 15th being a freebie on a bed-and-breakfast basis. The Dan chain has also offered travel agents a variety of package rates for guests staying seven nights, which also include two seder meals and five dinners. The Dan Tel Aviv will also highlight the chain’s fun-filled Danyland activities day camp for children and teens during Pesach.
Prima Kings Hotel Jerusalem (email@example.com). There are a variety of Pesach packages available for singles, couples and families who book directly with the hotel. The Prima annually attracts large numbers of Orthodox American tourists, who wish to be near the Great Synagogue, the Old City and nearby Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall. The various discounted packages revolve around a nine-night minimum stay and include seder meals. There are a limited number of four- and five-night deals available as well.
Rimonim Galei Kinnereth (English.rimonim.com). One of northern Israel’s most popular upscale hotels, which is located along the banks of the Sea of Galilee, recently redesigned its “Ben Gurion Suite.” Named after Israel’s first prime minister, the suite, which overlooks the Kinneret, had previously hosted statesmen, artists and Nobel Peace Prize winners. The newly refurbished suite highlights a state-of-the-art home cinema and LCD in the bedroom and living area of the suite, customized king-sized bed and luxury spa bathroom facilities. The Rimonim chain is highlighting a “Special Deluxe Ben Gurion Suite Package,” whose details are outlined on the chain’s website.