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 facilities and offering a variety of exciting vacation packages.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 752,000 foreign visitors entered the country between January and March 2012. That number eclipsed last year’s figures by two per cent. The first-quarter figures also represent a one per cent 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 a myriad of 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.
“Both returning and new clientele are quite different from five years ago because of new technologies. Today’s tourists are more computer savvy. They can compare prices online in an instant from their computers and make a formal booking from their smartphones, so hotels must be prepared to offer more personalized services, as well as new experiences,” Ilan Brenner, the executive assistant manager of marketing and sales at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, said.
“Our staff knows our clients, and in a growing number of cases, we 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, etc.”
The Dan Hotel chain recently completed a makeover at its historical King David Hotel in Jerusalem and at its venerable Dan Carmel Hotel in Haifa. Rafi Beeri, the Dan Hotel’s vice-president of marketing and sales, was enthused by the renovations, as well as the debut of a unique “hotel within a hotel” concept at the Dan Jerusalem (formerly the Hyatt Regency).
Beeri said, “We have invested heavily in upgrading these hotels in different ways. 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 which 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 [500 rooms] would have to be done in phases and feature some unique aspects.”
Beeri said that with the Dan Jerusalem’s unique “hotel within a hotel” concept, guests and groups can benefit from more personalized services and amenities. “It can be compared to an airline’s business-class environment.
We’ve upgraded a wing of 120 rooms [executive class], 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.
“In addition, as the Dan’s chain is sponsoring Israel’s ParaOlympics team this summer at the Olympic Games in London, our popular Danyland Kids Club will highlight Olympic-style sports activities for youngsters at many of our hotels.”
The Ramada Jerusalem Hotel has acquired a stellar reputation among families with children who seek discounted long-term vacation packages (from seven to 21 days), with a variety of summer activities for adults and children. “Our annual We Love Kids summer program has been a hit with tourists from North America for several years,” Yacov Shaari, the general manager of the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel, said.
“If people are staying in the hotel over an extended period, we have to keep the kids entertained, so every day we offer something different, whether it’s a magician, petting zoo, etc. 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 alike.”
The growing Rimonim chain recently re-branded 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.
Anat Aharon, Rimonim’s vice-president of sales and marketing, said, “During the summer months, the Royal Dead Sea will feature special spa packages that include the hotel’s new Royal Lounge. The Royal Serenity Indulgence Package features both a private VIP spa and private beach opposite the hotel. There is also a summer spa getaway at the Rimonim Galei Kinnereth in Tiberias. Guests who book our Ben-Gurion Suite package are pampered with a deluxe treatment in the hotel’s spa, unique amenities and special tastings of boutique Israeli wines upon arrival.
“At the nearby Ruth Rimonim in Safed (Tzfat), we invite guests to let their soul breathe amidst the mystic beauty of the hotel’s Galilean surroundings. The hotel also features a wine cellar, where you can sample the best Israeli wines. The staff at the Ruth Rimonim can also organize special walking tours through the colourful alleys and art galleries in the Old City, accompanied by klezmer music. In Eilat, we are offering summer Serenity and Action packages to romantic couples and families with children who seek a bit of adventure.”
At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where North American, British and French tourists alike converge during the summer months, the accent will be on indulging kids and parents alike. “As a hotel, we are geared for families, providing dedicated areas for youngsters with computers, where they can connect with their friends on Facebook,” said Jean-Louis Ripoche, the general manager of the Sheraton Tel Aviv. “Last year we opened a children’s pool. This year, we will complement it with a guarded playground with games and toys, where families can relax and enjoy the pool, while their children are playing. We also are featuring our summer kids breakfast-buffet corner featuring a variety of yogurts, colourful cereals, a variety of chocolate drinks, pancakes, mini Belgian waffles, etc. There’s also a kids menu on display at the outdoor pool.
“During the summer, we will be extending breakfast hours in the dining room till 12 p.m., so couples and families alike 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.”
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In many instances, Israeli hotels have not increased their prices since last summer, as general managers are aware that the price of airline tickets has increased by as much as 15 to 20 per cent during the past few months, because of the inflated price of oil, and families are looking to maximize their vacation experience without blowing their budgets.
Here is an abridged guide to some of the hottest summer deals across Israel.
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Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, www.inbalhotel.com
July rates begin from $150 per person in a double room, based on a minimum five-night stay. The hotel’s website features several unique summer deals.
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Dan Hotels, www.danhotels.com
Rates for July and August for guests who book Golden 7 Nights at the King David start from $480 per room (per couple) based on a bed/breakfast excursion. The Golden 7 special 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.
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Ramada Jerusalem Hotel www.jerusalemramada.com
The hotel’s We Love Kids rates start from $198 based on a seven to 14 night stay, with two adults and one child in a room (including breakfast). Rates are discounted even lower 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.
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Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel & Towers, www.sheratontelaviv.com
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 years old is $30 per child. There is no charge for children under the age of three. There is a limited promotion for guests who stay for a minimum of five nights between Aug. 5 and 25. They will receive complimentary tickets to the Cirque du Soleil, which will play Tel Aviv in August. Rates start from $400 a night based on double occupancy. This special deal can be booked direct via the hotel’s website.
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Rimonim Hotels, http://English.rimonim.com
Various deals are available for guests who book directly via their website. 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 and private breakfast and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks during the day. Galei Kinnereth’s luxurious spa includes a domed Jacuzzi overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Rimonim Eilat’s Serenity and Action package includes a choice of two hot attractions for the whole family – admission to the Imax theatre and the Eilat underwater observatory when reserving for a minimum of three nights. The hotel’s Romantic Serenity deal for couples features pampering amenities, including breakfast for two in your room, a gift dinner and a couples spa treatment, as well as a 45-minute pedicure and manicure.