Israeli hotels showcase a summer medley of adventures


Spurred by a record-breaking number of foreign tourists who visited the Holy Land during the first quarter of 2012, Israel’s burgeoning hotel industry is gearing up for a busy summer tourism season by sprucing up their facilities and offering a variety of titillating vacation packages.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the 752,000 foreign visitors who entered the country between January and March 2012, not only eclipsed last year’s figures by 2 percent, the first-quarter figures also represent a 1 percent increase over 2010, which Israel’s Ministry of Tourism declared was Israel’s best year ever for incoming tourism.

Despite the generally optimistic picture, many hotel managers aren’t assuming that North American Jewish tourists will reflexively book a vacation to Israel when there are myriad interesting destinations to choose from. In order to attract both veteran and new foreign tourists to their facilities, some of Israel’s best-known hotels have undergone a series of physical transformations in order to broaden their appeal, while others have focused on offering newfangled experiences to both couples and families with children.

Ilan Brenner, executive assistant manager of marketing and sales at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, said that the hotel’s staff knows its clients, and in a growing number of cases they have literally grown up with entire families.

“So when a new generation emerges, we already have a good idea about their needs. Both returning and new tourists are always searching for and asking about upgrades, so we are constantly adding incentives, whether it’s a free car, a multimedia game room for youngsters, new spa treatments, trendy gastronomic experiences in the dining room,” he said. 

Rafi Beeri, the Dan Hotel’s vice president of marketing and sales, said renovations at Dan properties have included some innovations. “The King David has undergone a major makeover with a new section of rooms and suites. At the Dan Carmel, which debuted in 1962, we have completed a top-to-bottom renovation [that] includes new executive rooms, which overlook Haifa Bay and the Carmel Mountains. With the Dan Jerusalem, which we acquired in 2010, we realized that renovating this huge hotel would have to be done in phases and feature some unique aspects.”

According to Beeri, the Dan Jerusalem highlights a unique hotel-within-a-hotel concept, where both guests and groups can benefit from more personalized services and amenities.

“It can be compared to an airline’s business-class environment,” he said. “We’ve upgraded a wing of 120 rooms, where guests or groups who wish to stay in this section will enjoy a separate check-in area, separate lounge and dining facilities, as well as a special staff that will cater to them in a more personalized manner.”

The Ramada Jerusalem Hotel has acquired a stellar reputation among families who seek discounted long-term vacation packages (from seven to 21 days) with a variety of summer activities for adults and children, including its “We Love Kids” program, which features daily entertainment for children, including magicians and petting zoos.

“During weekdays, we offer complimentary shuttle bus service to the Old City, which is an attraction for the parents. And, our outdoor American-style barbecues out by the pool area during August always attracts a large audience of both adults and children,” said Yacov Shaari, general manager of the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel. The growing Rimonim chain recently rebranded four of its upscale properties to create the “Royal Collection,” which includes the Royal Dead Sea, Rimonim Eilat, Ruth Rimonim Safed and Rimonim Galei Kinnereth. Each hotel accentuates contrasting experiences for the mind, body and soul.

“During the summer months, the Royal Dead Sea will feature special spa packages that include the hotel’s new Royal Lounge,” said Anat Aharon, Rimonim’s vice president of sales and marketing. “At the Ruth Rimonim in Safed, we invite guests to let their soul breathe amid the mystic beauty of the hotel’s Galilean surroundings. The hotel also features a wine cellar, where you can sample the best Israeli wines and enjoy small talk.”

At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where North American, British and French tourists converge during the summer months, the “accent” will be on indulging kids and parents alike.

“Last year, we opened a children’s pool. This year, we will complement it with a guarded kids’ playground with games and toys, where families can relax and enjoy the pool while their children are playing,” said Jean-Louis Ripoche, general manager of the Sheraton Tel Aviv. “During the summer, we will be extending breakfast hours in the dining room till noon, so couples and families can enjoy a longer, relaxed morning. After breakfast, we offer adults a free bicycle, so they can pedal around the seaside boardwalk area and beyond.”

It’s important to note that despite a 15 to 20 percent rise in the cost of airline tickets to Israel since last summer, many Israeli hotels have not raised their basic rates. Israeli hoteliers are cognizant of the fact that families are looking to maximize their vacation experience without blowing a hole in their budget.

Here is a guide to some of the hottest summer deals across Israel:

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
July rates begin at $150 per person in a double room, based on a minimum five-night stay. The hotel’s Web site features several unique summer deals. Guests who book three consecutive nights in a “superior room” are entitled to a free car. Guests who book at least three consecutive nights in “executive rooms” or higher category are also entitled to a vehicle upgrade (such as Mazda 6). In August, the hotel’s popular Kids Club will feature a supervised multimedia game room and Gymboree. The Splash Bar situated poolside highlights an American-style barbecue menu as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for adults and children. The hotel’s Mediterranean-accented Sofia restaurant has received rave reviews for the unique fish and pasta dishes served up by executive chef Moti Buchbut. 
inbalhotel.com.

Ramada Jerusalem Hotel
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” rates start at $198 based on a seven- to 14-night stay, including two adults and one child in a room (including breakfast). Rates are discounted even further based on stays exceeding 14 nights. Amenities include large indoor and outdoor pools, health club and sauna, as well as supervised summer children’s camps and a teen corner during July and August. This hotel highlights OU mehadrin glatt kosher cuisine.
jerusalemramada.com.

Dan Hotels
Rates for July and August for guests who book “Golden 7 Nights” at the King David start at $480 a night per room (per couple) based on a bed and breakfast excursion. The “Golden 7” special also includes pampering amenities such as free round-trip transportation between Ben-Gurion Airport and the hotel. Guests who stay a minimum of three nights are entitled to a free voucher to the Dan Lounge at Ben Gurion Airport on the day of their departure from Israel. At the Dan Jerusalem, guests who book a minimum of three nights in “deluxe rooms” will receive a free upgrade to “executive rooms,” which includes the use of the hotel’s new King David Executive Lounge.
danhotels.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv
Hotel & Towers

The hotel is offering an “early bird package” starting from $370 per person with a minimum booking of five nights, or three nights non-refundable. The charge for a child in the room under the age of 17 is $30 per child. There is no charge for children under 3 years old. There is a limited promotion whereby guests who stay for a minimum of five nights between Aug. 5 and Aug. 25 will receive complimentary tickets to the world famous Cirque du Soleil, which will be playing Tel Aviv during August. Rates start from $400 a night based on double occupancy. The special deal can be booked direct via the hotel’s Web site.
sheratontelaviv.com.

Rimonim Hotels
Various deals are available for guests who book directly via the Web site. Rates vary for midweek and weekend vacations. At the Royal Dead Sea
guests staying in suites and preferred room types will enjoy a separate check-in at the lounge, private breakfast and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks during the day. Galei Kinnereth’s luxurious spa highlights a “domed Jacuzzi” overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Rimonim Eilat’s “Serenity & Action” package includes a choice of two hot attractions for the whole family: IMAX Theater/Underwater Observatory/Ice & Space, when reserving for a minimum of three nights. The hotel’s “Romantic Serenity” deal for couples features pampering amenities such as, breakfast for two in your room, one gift dinner, spa treatment for both, as well as a 45-minute pedicure and manicure.
english.rimonim.com


Rimonim Royal Dead Sea pool

Jerusalem lodging boasts refined eatery, spa


JERUSALEM — It had been years since I’d ventured any farther than the lobby of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, so when I received an invitation to tour its spa and one of its restaurants, it was hard to say no.

Built in the 1980s, the Inbal is one of the city’s top hotels and its facilities reflect this. Its staff is helpful and pleasant, and its health club and spa, which were refurbished two years ago, are top-notch.

One of the nicest things about the Inbal is its location in tony Talbieh. It’s within distance of the Old City and Western Wall, the many shops and restaurants on bustling Emek Refaim Street and the center of town. It adjoins Liberty Bell Park, which boasts a fantastic kids’ playground, outdoor exercise equipment, basketball courts and places to barbecue. In other words, a taste of the real Israel.

We began the tour at Sofia, the Inbal’s dairy restaurant. Adjoining the flower-filled terrace, the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide the feel of outdoor dining without having to sacrifice much-needed air-conditioning.

Sofia specializes in pasta and fish dishes that can be tailored to individual tastes. When I inquired whether some of the dishes could be prepared without dairy products — I’m lactose intolerant — the answer was a resounding “yes.” This was a welcome surprise; Jerusalem restaurants are rarely this flexible.

The menu includes champignon mushrooms filled with goat and parmesan cheeses, pine nuts and spinach stir-fried in butter and thyme; and melanzana: smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, pesto, diced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese in a baked phyllo shell in cream and white wine sauce. The fresh herb salad featured finely chopped herbs combined with breadsticks, with smoked mozzarella cheese shells, red onion, sliced olives and smoked salmon.

Fish courses include salmon filet cooked either in olive oil (on special request) or served with creamed peas, polenta, thyme sprouts, Parmesan and sautéed vegetables; and filet of trout marinated in fresh garlic, with diced potatoes, mushrooms, marinated in olive oil, capers, celery and red onions.

The apple pie, which was the only dairy-free choice, was creamy and delicious, but not as decadent as the Magic Meringue, a baked meringue filled with mascarpone cream, passion fruit, coconut sorbet and honey cream.

Satisfied and full, we headed to the health club, which includes a semi-Olympic pool that is covered and heated in the winter, a gym, a dry sauna and a spa.

The health club offers Pilates, aerobics, body sculpting and water exercise classes. The gym, which features all the equipment you would find in a well-equipped American fitness center, is large and modern. There are three personal trainers.

Health club director Dr. Ran Bibi, who holds a doctorate in sports management from the Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport, said the facility is “very successful because the staff is experienced and highly trained.”

Before receiving a massage, Rachel, the young immigrant from New Jersey who would be kneading the tension out of my body, asked me to fill out a medical disclosure/permission form. The room we entered was sleek, serene and spacious, with an exceptionally comfortable massage table, a bathtub-whirlpool and a separate shower.

Again, the staff responded well to special requests. When I asked Rachel whether she had some unscented oil (as opposed to aromatherapy oils), she searched high and low until she located a bottle of almond oil, whose scent is very subtle. When she learned that I had come straight from a big lunch, she started with reflexology to ease my digestion.

The Inbal’s spa offers a wide range of massages, including Swedish, deep tissue, Oriental, four-hand, hot stone and aromatherapy, as well as facials, body peeling and Dead Sea body wrapping. Prices for a massage range from $90 (Swedish, deep tissue) to $165 (four-hand). A hot-stone facial costs $130, and mud wrapping costs $115. 

Refreshed by the massage, I showered and headed to the pool, located right outside the health club. There I found a poolside café that prepares light meals, a sun-protected wading pool and the beautiful main pool, which is large enough for laps.

The few guests I saw that afternoon were seated on lounge chairs or doing laps. A swimming instructor was coaching a 7-year-old on her breast stroke.

Thoroughly relaxed, I entered the pool, where jets froth the water and massage the muscles. I knew I should go home and help the kids with their homework.

But I didn’t.

Inbal Hotel, 3 Jabotinsky St., Jerusalem, Israel, 92145. (972) 2-675-6666. For more information, visit inbalhotel.com.