The new Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem will become “an extremely successful luxury hotel,” Simon Vincent, president of Europe, Middle East and Africa and executive vice president of Hilton Worldwide, predicted in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s really marrying our great brand name with the brand name of the great city of Jerusalem and all that stands for,” Vincent said in his educated British accent. “We have many global customers within Hilton Worldwide who have very close ties with Israel and with Jerusalem, and if we can attract them to this great city and give them a slice of true Waldorf service, then we’ll be well on our way to introducing our brand and making it the most popular luxury hotel in Jerusalem.”
Hotel executives from Israel and abroad gathered for the official gala opening on Sunday night of the ultra-luxurious Waldorf Astoria after a running-in period of two months.
Some 700 special guests joined them at a festive reception in the Palace Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, where guests were treated to a superb smorgasbord dinner, a stunning performance by singer David D’Or and warm speeches of welcome by hotel executives, including its general manager, Guy Klaiman.
The elegant and eloquent Vincent, who is based in London, was among the hotel executives from Waldorf Astoria and Conrad who flew into Israel for the event. Waldorf Astoria and Conrad are the two Hilton luxury brands, the latter named after Conrad Hilton, the founder of the famous global hotel chain.
Vincent took time out to speak to the Post about how he believes the world’s most prominent brand name in luxury hotels will boost tourism to the city. He voiced optimism that the 223-room hotel would soon have full occupancy, despite the current tensions in Jerusalem.
“Clearly everybody’s sensitive to and aware of the tensions,” he said.
“One thing about running a global company is that inevitably there are tensions somewhere, whether they be in Egypt or in Israel or somewhere else. We clearly have to be aware of it and take security measures, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s business as usual. We have an international clientele who wish to travel and we have to service their needs. We’re aware of it, we’re sensitive to it, but it’s not going to disrupt our day-to-day business.”
Having visited Jerusalem many times, Vincent confessed to be personally enamored with the city. He said the Waldorf Astoria would become a magnet for Hilton’s worldwide customers.
“Jerusalem is steeped in history, and it is a must-see city on many people’s agenda,” he said. “I do truly believe we can attract a high level of international guests here.
You’ve only got to look at the caliber of guests that go to the Hilton Tel Aviv and many others who are clamoring to come to our hotel in Jerusalem.”
Although he declined to divulge exact figures, he said occupancy in the first two months had exceeded forecasts and expectations, and this was indicative of what can be anticipated in the future.
“We’re very happy with where we are,” Vincent said. “We’re optimistic that this will be an extremely successful luxury hotel. We’ve got no qualms about that.”
Vincent – who joined the company in 2007 – is responsible for almost 300 hotels across six brands with more than 47,000 team members in 49 countries.
One of the features of Waldorf Astoria hotels around the world is that luxury complements local culture, said Vincent, noting that architecture and décor are in keeping with local traditions plus the special attention to detail and service of the Waldorf Astoria.
“I think the key with Waldorf – and we’ve got 25 Waldorfs around the globe right now and another 12 in the pipeline – is to have elements of consistency that play to luxury service and a luxury clientele. Our whole proposition is around true Waldorf service, with your own concierge, the luxurious nature of the bedrooms and the common area, the best service, and of course the attention to design and detail. But equally, we’ve got to nod to the local culture, the local customs and the local architecture.”
Among other things, the hotel provides guests with the Waldorf iPad, with which you can do everything from turning on the air-conditioning to calling the concierge.
“That’s all part of the full Waldorf service,” said Vincent.
Formerly the Palace Hotel in the period before the establishment of the state, the property was later taken over by the state and turned into a government ministry. In 2012, the property for the Waldorf Astoria hotel and residential complex was purchased through IPC Jerusalem Ltd. by the Canadian- based Reichmann family, who decided to restore the building to its former glory and to make it a luxury hotel in which personal service would be a hallmark, and in which there would be no shortcuts in the quality of workmanship.
The spectacular Mandate-era facade was maintained and renovated, while an ultra-modern hotel was built inside, using Jerusalem stones and motifs, such as strings of glass birds of peace flying out of a pool. Among its many attractive features are classy meeting rooms named after the 12 tribes of Israel, and an upscale business center.
It is strategically situated at the intersection of King David, Mamilla and Agron streets. This central location – within easy walking distance of the Old City, yet very much part of the new city – makes it doubly attractive to tourists, Vincent said.
He noted that one of the things that made the hotel unique was that it catered to observant Jews and people of other religious faiths, including Christians and Muslims.
“If you’re opening a hotel in Jerusalem, you’ve got to be respectful to the local traditions and religious beliefs,” he said. “It’s fair to say in opening this hotel, we’ve done that absolutely, especially abiding by all the Jewish traditions.”
This was, in essence, the third opening that the hotel has had in just over three months. The first was in March with the ceremony for affixing the mezuzot. Another, by way of a press tour, was held soon afterwards.
Vincent does not rule the possibility of another festive event or two as the hotel continues to pass a series of milestones. The hotel’s ninth floor is not yet complete and Vincent, who has learned that in Israel one does not commit oneself to a time frame, is hopeful that it will be ready for occupancy by the end of July. He is not holding his breath, but believes it will be open well in advance of Rosh Hashana.
The spa, which promises to be one of the most state-of-the-art facilities of its kind in the Middle East, is due to be opened some time in 2015.
On Sunday evening, Vincent was happy to host journalists and special guests, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III and Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the launch of the aptly- named Nobel suite.
The luxurious suite has a long patio, which offers a panoramic view of Jerusalem, a large lounge-dining room, a huge bedroom with a separate dressing room, a jacuzzi with a television screen on the wall and a private sauna.
The suite reflects quiet, understated luxury. The Presidential Suite one floor below is identical, but the balcony area is somewhat smaller.
It’s obvious that Vincent takes pride in having the Waldorf Astoria brand linked with elegance of this ilk, and he is lavish in his praise of the Reichmanns for their vision and their refusal to compromise on quality.
“I have to pay tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Reichmann for the vision they had in the first place to revive this classic building,” he said. “I think you’ll see luxury and attention to detail everywhere you go in this hotel. Certainly, the guest reaction has been very positive and I think they’ve done an absolutely fantastic job in restoring what is an iconic building in Jerusalem. I think they’ve done the city proud.”