Jerusalem’s hotels are looking forward to the upcoming Passover holiday as a celebration of renewal and hope, even as they are limited in how many guests they can have due to coronavirus restrictions.
Israel’s hotels were finally allowed to reopen about three weeks ago, after a series of lockdowns kept them closed since early September. According to the latest regulations, only people who have received both shots of the coronavirus vaccine or can provide proof that they have recovered from the virus are allowed to stay at the hotel. Cancellation policies that offer 100% refunds in case of closures or quarantines have become the norm throughout the hospitality industry.
The seven-day holiday of Passover, which starts the night of Saturday, March 27, is traditionally one of the most popular times for tourists from America and around the world to visit. However, because Israel’s airports are generally not open for non-citizens, the hotels are limited to guests from within the country.
Despite the limitations, demand is high at Jerusalem’s hotels, and the workers say they are excited to be back in business.
The Waldorf Astoria on Agron Street opened at the beginning of last week, General Manager Avner On said. “So far, we are doing better than expected. We opened a new spa on March 7, and there has been strong activity at our gym. As of March 22, the hotel will be kosher for Pessah (Passover), and we are almost full.”
Due to coronavirus distancing regulations, ‘almost full’ doesn’t mean what it used to mean for hotels. “Our hotel has 226 rooms, but in order to ensure guests’ safety, we are opening at only 60% occupancy,” On said. “It would be extremely difficult to ensure proper distancing at 100%.”
Lunches and dinners at the Waldorf Astoria are being served by waiters, while at breakfast, hot foods will be served buffet-style and cold food will be brought to the tables, On said. “People love their Israeli breakfast buffets and it was important that we provide it, but we had to eliminate the buffet for cold foods to comply with the rules,” he said.
While On had been worried that many of the hotel’s workers wouldn’t come back from their extended unpaid leaves, the hotel is fully staffed. “We are all extremely excited to be back and see our guests again,” On said.
The situation is similar at the venerable Inbal Hotel in the city’s Talbiyeh neighborhood. “We just finished a huge renovation, adding three floors and updating all of our rooms,” a spokesperson said. “The Inbal has 332 rooms, but less than half of those will be available, due to coronavirus requirements. Some of our new rooms will be used for the first time ever. There is a lot of demand from people around the country who want to be in Jerusalem for Pessah.”
The hotel’s gym, spa and pools are open to hotel guests and members, although one of its restaurants will not reopen until April 9 due to a lack of staff, the spokesperson said. The Passover Seder will be divided into capsules for families on separate floors.
“There has been some frustration over the past year, as we felt like the hotels and restaurants were the government’s lowest priority, but we are super happy to be back,” the spokesperson said. “Pessah is our favorite holiday, a time of renewal.”
At the five-year-old Herbert Samuel Hotel in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, preparations are starting to make the hotel kosher for Passover for those who eat Kitniyot (legumes). The hotel features a dining room with a 360-degree view of Jerusalem on its 11th floor. Some 50-60 of its 137 rooms are already filled, about half of which are available for the holiday. “Doing everything to comply with all the regulations is tricky, but everyone is excited to start working again,” a spokesman said. “It feels like we are starting again from the beginning.”
Finally, the Mamilla Hotel and adjacent David Citadel Hotel, which are owned by the same owners, are adjusting to the new reality by launching a new concept for Israeli visitors, including 500 sq.m. of new playgrounds for kids and cocktail parties and culturally-themed weekends for adults. The hotels are reopening this Thursday, and already have many reservations for Passover. “It is not clear what to expect over the next few months,” a spokesperson said. “ We will find out soon.”