Israeli Luxury Hotels on the rise
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. will open its first Israel property in mid-December, joining a select group of luxury hotels that have opened in the country during the past decade.
Located in Herzliya, an upscale shorefront town north of Tel Aviv known for its beautiful beaches, marina and high-tech center, the hotel will set “new standards in luxury hospitality,” according to Gadi Hassin, the hotel’s general manager.
Perhaps just as important, the hotel’s construction reflects the fact that as the security situation in Israel has improved dramatically — bringing with it a record-breaking number of tourists — so, too, has the quality of high-end short-term and residential hotel accommodations.
What sets these properties apart is the level of design, amenities, service and location. Most afford heart-stopping views: the Mediterranean Sea, the Old City of Jerusalem or one-of-a-kind nature spots in Israel.
Hoping to attract as wide a clientele as possible, the larger hotels offer a wide range of conference and business facilities, luxury spas and fitness centers. Several house a top-notch restaurant that’s as popular with local diners as it is with hotel guests.
Eran Nitzan, who heads the infrastructure and investment department at Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, told the Journal that about 10 large luxury hotels have been built in the country during the past decade. A greater number of less-luxurious properties also have been built during this period, as have numerous small four- and five-star boutique hotels, many of them in Tel Aviv.
Nitzan explained that the ministry has long provided “incentive” grants to encourage companies and entrepreneurs to build hotels. These grants typically amount to 20 to 28 percent of the total construction costs, and over the past decade, they have totaled “hundreds of millions” of shekels, he said. Of that sum, 40 to 50 percent went to high-end rooms.
Shmuel Zurel, director general of the Israel Hotel Association, said roughly 3,500 hotel rooms, have been built in Israel during that period, most in the “high midclass to luxurious” categories — a relatively small number compared to the average 2,000 rooms built annually in places like Eilat, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem between the late 1980s and 2000. That’s when the second Palestinian intifada broke out, leaving many hotels at less-than-full capacity.
But those difficult days are long gone, Nitzan said.
“[Today] there is a demand for luxury rooms, especially among Jews visiting Israel as well as business people, who want to stay in the best locations,” he said.
The land and construction costs at these locations are very, very high, he said, so newer property developers invariably choose to build high-end hotels that offer a greater return. Such was the case with the properties in the gentrified Mamilla neighborhood of Jerusalem, home to the David Citadel Hotel, the more recent Mamilla Hotel and adjoining luxury shopping district and residences, including David’s Village. All are a five- to 10-minute walk to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate and the center of town.
There may be turmoil throughout the greater Middle East, but Nitzan said the outlook is good for tourism in Israel.
“We think the number of tourists will continue to grow, and the investors believe this as well,” Nitzan said.
Both Zurel and Nitzan say the fact that top-of-the-line hotel management firms like Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria — whose striking Jerusalem property will open soon — is a reflection of just how desirable a destination Israel has become in recent years.
Yael Ron, director of sales and marketing for the Ritz-Carlton Herzliya, said the company, which belongs to the Marriott chain, had been looking for an Israeli property to manage for a long time and that the one in Herzliya fit all the criteria.
“It is an urban resort, meaning it will have clients from the corporate world” doing business in Herzliya’s high-tech parks, he said. Furthermore, it will cater to Jewish and non-Jewish clients, bar mitzvah tours and what Ron called “members of the global, affluent tribe” who “value status and mobility and are always curious about new places.”
The hotel will have 115 rooms, half of them 600 square feet, complemented by custom-made amenities by the British heritage brand Asprey. There also will be 82 residential apartments consisting of one- or two-bedroom suites, duplexes or penthouses, with marina views.
Spread throughout three floors, the hotel spa will feature six treatment rooms utilizing Shiseido beauty products, a couples treatment room, a Turkish bath, dry and wet saunas, and an ocean-front spa lounge where guests can relax before and after their treatments. There also will be a fitness center with a sea view.
Other amenities will include a rooftop pool and bar, as well as a branch of the Tel Aviv celebrity restaurant Herbert Samuel — the first kosher Ritz-Carlton restaurant in the world. And because this is Israel, the hotel will have a Shabbat elevator and standard keys for Sabbath-observing guests who will not use electronic keys on Shabbat.
The Ritz-Carlton, Ron emphasized, “wants everyone to feel welcome.”