“I had two ambitions in life: to go into hotels or to study medicine,” recalls Guy Klaiman, the General Manager of the soon-to-be-launched Waldorf Astoria Hotel Jerusalem. There are currently 23 Waldorf Astoria Hotels worldwide, part of the Hilton chain. Twenty three more are set to open in the next five years, including the Waldorf in Jerusalem in November this year. Waldorf Astoria hotels are known for their grand architecture, sumptuous interiors and finest luxury facilities, and according to Guy, are the fastest growing luxury brand in the market.
Guy grew up in Herzliya and as a teenager worked over the summers with his father, a doctor, as an intern at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba. He then went on to work as a paramedic in the army, and as an ambulance driver after the army. However, inspired by his brother who worked at the Laromme Hotel (now The Inbal), Guy ultimately decided to pursue a career in hotels. After studying hotel management, Guy joined a two-year program that the Tel Aviv Hilton offers for graduates. He landed up never leaving the Hilton group.
Thereafter Guy transferred to Langham Hilton in England, then returned to work in Jerusalem for two years at the Crowne Plaza
, the Hilton at the time. He subsequently worked in Scotland, London, Istanbul, and London again before receiving offers to work at the Waldorf Rome, the Conrad in New York or as General Manager of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. “I was drawn to the the challenge of bringing the first luxury hotel built from scratch to Israel,” shares Guy.
“The Waldorf Astoria brand has heritage and know-how when it comes to luxury,” remarks Guy. “It is more about attitude than anything else but the luxury is found in every facet from state-of-the-art imported equipment to the hotel design. It’s all about attention to the smallest detail.”
The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem already towers over the intersection of King David and Agron Streets and Mamilla Avenue. The building stands out for its impressive Greco-Roman, Gothic and Ottoman architecture and magnificently preserved 80-year-old exterior façade.
The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem hotel will offer 226 rooms including 33 suites and two presidential suites. “The smallest room will be around 40 square meters, which is bigger than the average room in Israel,” says Guy. Hotel facilities are spread over ten floors and include three restaurants, two bars, a cigar club, modern fitness facilities and a Waldorf Astoria spa and a health club. The hotel will offer eight state-of-the-art meeting rooms, a conference center and the Palace Grand Ballroom that will seat up to 660 people for a sit-down banquet dinner, the biggest in downtown Jerusalem.
Guy’s role currently involves a lot of planning. “Opening a hotel is like building a small city,” reflects Guy. “We need to make sure all licensing is in place, that things are functional, that all plans made by the architect match up and that training is impeccable.” The hotel will not open up until quality audits are 100 percent complete. Guy also needs to ensure that the whole team is working together with the timescale and opening in mind and that no one is losing focus.
Another critical aspect is recruitment and Guy spends a lot of time interviewing potential candidates. The hotel filters staff carefully and there are at least three or four interviews before appointment. “It’s challenging finding staff in Israel as Israelis in general don’t like to serve and work in hotels,” says Guy.
“It’s always imperative to find staff who get and understand luxury,” says Guy. “Our staff need to be confident and attentive and should be able to sense what a guest wants before the guest even asks. In a luxury hotel, people want to be served by genuine people and discussions need to be genuine. To create this atmosphere and culture, we try to give our staff support and honor and allow employees to be themselves. We try to engender a positive 'can-do' attitude in our staff and build this into the training.”
The Waldorf Jerusalem has thus far lined up a winning international team including an FNB Manager from the Peninsula Hotel in Manila, front office from the St. Regis in New York and a top chef, who previously opened a famous restaurant in Venice. “We’re aiming to give service at an international level and not at local standards,” says Guy.
There are currently a lot of reservations lined up from abroad but also from Israelis. “The demand has been unbelievably greater than expectation,” says Guy. The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem will offer floating rates, which will change according to month and demand. Though there will undoubtedly be an opening party, the plan is for the hotel to be open and run for a while beforehand.
“I think the launch of the Waldorf is fantastic for the hotel industry in Israel,” says Guy. “The hotel will raise the quality of hospitality in Jerusalem and Israel. A lot of hoteliers from around the country are already coming to view the hotel. We aim to be the leaders that set the standards that people will try to follow.”
This is the third time Guy has lived in Jerusalem. “Every time I come back it is more positive,” says Guy. “I like the city and its culture, history and architecture.”
Guy is married and has three children. His wife is clearly very supportive of his role and the family have moved around extensively due to the nature of his job. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my wife,” says Guy. “She is very flexible. It’s much harder for my family as every time we move I simply go into my job yet my wife and kids have had to start a new life altogether.”
To unwind, Guy enjoys going diving, cooking, traveling to Asia, and spending time at the sea. “I really like to simply spend time at home,” says Guy. “For hoteliers, working days are so long that my biggest joy is just to be with my family.” At the moment Guy works from around 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., and is sure to work much longer hours when the hotel opens. “We half-joke that these months are family quality time,” says Guy.
"In another lifetime I’d become and architect or interior designer, although I haven’t focused a lot on that in our homes as we’ve traveled and moved around so much.”
“Beyond this, I have no plans to go anywhere,” says Guy. “You get to an age where the moving is exhausting. Whereas in the past, I made a quick decision to move abroad, I now feel that I want to be in Israel as far as possible. It doesn’t matter how many years you live in another place; you never feel part of it. Israel is where I feel at home, and is the best place to be.”
“It’s not my first opening,” says Guy. “What I love about it is creating something from the beginning. It’s very dynamic. There is a lot of adrenaline that flows just before the hotel is opened and I get so much satisfaction when I see everything coming together. It’s like building a puzzle every day, and then getting to enjoy the handiwork when the last piece is in place.” ITravelJerusalem.com is a new online international travel portal offering all the latest information on things to do, places to eat and places to stay in Jerusalem