A view of the Tel Aviv coastline, a hotel-owner’s dream.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel hosted the highest number of tourists in October than ever before. Some 486,000 people, or nearly half a million visitors, came to the Holy Land – devoting 2.5 billion shekels to the Israeli economy. The record number comes at a good time. Tel Aviv will soon be hosting the “Israel Hotel Investment Summit,” where hotel managers will come together and speak about tourism and the need to get more accommodations up and running in the country.
In 2000, Israel had about 47,000 rooms for two million visitors. In 2017, the country had 55,000 rooms and 3.6 million tourists. The Tourism Ministry is trying to change that. The government office is incentivizing building by offering grant money to developers and helping them cut through red tape. One of the summit’s keynote speakers, Navneet Bali, will be talking about why Israel is a key market for hospitality innovation. Bali is the chairman for Meininger Hotels. The Jerusalem Post first asked him “Why October?”
“In general I would say there was an increase in October because after the summer holidays,” he answered. “You have a lot of conferences taking place and even festivals – like Oktoberfest and you also have industry conferences that focus on the autumn period. People want to get their deals done and complete things – so economic activity seems to be good.”
Bali hopes within the next two years he will have a hotel up and running in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He says he already has scouts on the ground looking for the perfect place to develop. Bali says Israel is in need of hotels like his that double for a hostel as well. The accommodations are geared toward those who are traveling on a budget. He plans to have private rooms as well as shared spaces for singles with backpacks.
“Currently you don’t have this in Israel. Hotels are expensive if you’re on a budget and it’s not easy. Our focus is to get customers to interact with locals in the city and to meet each other, too,” Bali explained.
Bali points to a group of tourists he believes is contributing to the numbers: Indians. Direct flights from India became available earlier in the year and now Air India is even adding more direct flights per week to meet demand.
“From an Indian perspective, it’s the flights. So that indicates a level of engagement between the governments of the two countries in terms of the government relationships. There’s a strong positive view of Israel and we admire the country a lot for what Israel has achieved.”
Bali said he became connected to Israel when he visited on a business venture two years ago.
“WHEN YOU haven’t been to a place, you don’t know. If you only read about a place, including the bad press, you don’t know. But when you visit... you get the vibrancy of the young people. For me it was the start-up culture, not Jerusalem or the history. What impressed me was the vibrancy of the young people. The bars when I was out for an evening drink... You go and meet people. This is the start-up capital. It’s the country that thinks like a start-up
. What I think Israel needs is a quality accommodation for a good price. There are a few hostels, but in general Israel is quite expensive.
“The product you currently see is old fashioned. It’s not modern. It doesn’t match the effect of the quality of the start-up capital,” Bali said.
Another keynote speaker, Neil Jacobs, is the chief executive officer at Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas. Coming from Thailand, he plans to talk about why Israel is a hot spot for investment and tourism. But most important for him, he will talk about his company’s first resort hotel opening on Israeli soil. It will be a luxurious one, with 58 suites and villas and is scheduled to open mid-2019.
Jacobs says the construction is designed to integrate into the desert topography and preserve the natural terrain. He says he is thrilled about the Six Senses Spa that will open and is “equally excited” about the desert activity center that will incorporate “Earth Lab.” The goal of the lab is to showcase sustainability efforts to reduce consumption, produce locally, and support communities and ecosystems. Guests will also be able to visit camel stables with an arena and grooming area. Guests will be able to ride the camels in the early morning and during twilight.
The set-up will also include an open-air amphitheater created within the natural terrain. Jacobs calls it “Cinema Paradiso,” where guests can lay beneath the stars and have a tented Bedouin dining experience as well.
Jacobs says he believes the strongest need in Israeli tourism is a focus on health. “In my past travels to Israel, I’ve not seen strong wellness programming apart from at the Dead Sea, and as this segment of travel is close to reaching the $500 billion mark, I’m certain that we are going to see more rich and diverse offerings here in the country.”
asked if there was anything tourism-related that Israelis would find surprising. Without knowing it, like Bali, Jacobs noted an influx of travelers flying into Israel from Asia, including from India, China, Thailand and Vietnam.
“India also appears on Israeli travel lists and we’re currently gearing up for 2019, when we open Six Senses Fort Barwara, built in a 700-year-old fort in Rajasthan.”
Jacobs and Bali are two featured speakers among some three dozen who will speak at the conference. That includes chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and the Israeli minister of tourism. If you want to attend the summit, you’ll need to register. It’s being held on Monday and Tuesday, November 19 and 20th at the Hilton Hotel.
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