Tamir Kobrin, The King David Hotel's new general manager's special roots

With Kobrin taking the scepter, the King David Hotel is poised to become even more majestic.

Tamir Kobrin, new general-manager of the King David Hotel, speaks eight languages (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Tamir Kobrin, new general-manager of the King David Hotel, speaks eight languages
This January, Tamir Kobrin, an international hotelier who has held managerial positions in luxury hotels in 14 countries, was on his way to India to open yet another one in a converted palace.
He had most recently opened a luxury resort hotel in Portugal, in the context of introducing the Asian Anantara Hotels Resorts and Spas brand to Europe. Almost three years later he was returning to India where he had spent five years opening and managing luxury hotels, having also managed other high-end hotels elsewhere in Asia.
Kobrin happens to be a native Jerusalemite, who 47 years ago was born at Hadassah Mount Scopus, and who 13 years later celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Seven Arches Hotel when it was still known as the Jerusalem Intercontinental. Although he has spent the major part of his life outside of Israel, Kobrin retains his citizenship and was in Israel in January to renew his passport and visas.
People move around a lot in the hotel industry, but keep tabs on each other in terms of promotions, new appointments and opportunities for advancement or change of location. When word reached Ronen Nissenbaum, president and CEO of the Dan chain, that Kobrin was in Israel, he called him and asked if he would like to be the general manager of the King David Hotel, the flagship of the Dan chain.
Nissenbaum, who himself had returned to Israel just over two years ago after 14 years abroad, was well aware of Kobrin’s record, particularly as they were both graduates of the famed Swiss hotel school Les Roches, which maintains contact with its alumni. Nissenbaum told Kobrin that Haim Shkedi – the legendary general manager of the King David who had held the post for a quarter of a century – had opted to retire, and it was decided his successor should be someone with extensive international hotel experience and leadership capabilities.
Was Kobrin interested? Indeed he was.
Officially taking up his new duties on June 15, for him this meant a homecoming in more ways than one. More than 20 years earlier, in 1998-1999, he had been the front desk manager at the King David and it had never occurred to him that he would one day be offered its general managership. Moreover, the idea of managing a hotel that needed no introduction appealed to him greatly.
Acknowledging that Jerusalem now has some excellent luxury hotels, Kobrin tells In Jerusalem that mention of any of them does not automatically indicate where they are located, whereas if one says “King David,” it is common knowledge that it is in Jerusalem – just like mention of “Raffles” signifies Singapore, “Taj Mahal Palace” Mumbai, “Claridges” London, and the “Hotel Ritz,” Paris.
As far as he is concerned, the King David is among the top 20 hotels in the world.
OUR INTERVIEW takes place in the nearly empty lounge of the hotel, where the only other person is a member of the housekeeping staff who is wiping down the chairs and tables. Kobrin apologizes that he can’t offer me coffee, let alone breakfast, because the kitchen is closed and will not reopen until the following day. Since hotels were closed in response to coronavirus restrictions, the King David had been open to Israeli guests for two consecutive weekends and was set for a third on the weekend beginning Thursday, July 16.
With all the chopping and changing of Health Ministry regulations, was Kobrin sorry that he had accepted Nissenbaum’s offer?
Not at all. On the contrary: He sees the present situation both as a challenge and an opportunity. Admittedly the King David has hosted Israeli guests from time to time, but for most Israelis, says Kobrin, the King David is like being overseas.
“Now it’s suddenly accessible.”
Given the economic crisis which has overtaken Israel, Kobrin concedes that what he considers to be “affordable luxury” is not really affordable to everyone, but makes the point that the reduced tariff of $500 a night compared to $700-$800 prior to coronavirus does make a difference to the high-end Israeli customer.
Guests experience not only the hotel's ambience and its personalized service, but are taken on tours of the Old City and Mahaneh Yehuda. In the future they will also meet well-known Jerusalemites, especially members of families who have lived in the city for generations, who will relate the stories of their families along with some of the Holy City's evolving history. The Meyuhas family, for instance, has lived in Jerusalem for more than 400 years and has produced rabbis, authors and merchants. Late president Yitzhak Navon’s ancestors came to Jerusalem in 1670 on his father’s side and 1742 on his mother’s.
Kobrin wants to approach such people as well as members of other multi-generation families such as the Matza, Parnas and Eliachar families, as well as more recent arrivals who have made significant contributions to the capital. In addition, he wants to bring in a variety of high-ranking professionals to talk to guests about what they do and how they got there.
He is a strong believer in people-to-people contacts. Wherever he is in the world, Kobrin makes a point of learning local customs, tasting local foods, absorbing local culture and learning the local language. He speaks eight languages, and happily, he has not forgotten his Hebrew. In fact, before he actually sat down to be interviewed, he spoke French to Post photographer Marc Israel Sellem, Hebrew to a staff member and English to me – all in the space of a split second.
Kobrin likes to walk to work from his home on Haneviim Street, to take in the sights, the sounds and the smells of the diversity of Jerusalem. Haneviim Street is on the seam of one of the city’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and the secular downtown area, so there is plenty of diversity to excite Kobrin’s senses.
Since his arrival, the hotel has acquired a new executive chef in the person of Roi Antebi, who was previously executive chef at the Jaffa Hotel, and before that at the Mamilla Hotel. Kobrin has asked Antebi to wander through the Old City and through the famed shuk to collect local street-food recipes and adapt them to meet the expectations of guests in a sophisticated hotel. Food has a history, he explains, and it will be interesting if Antebi is able to collect the histories of some of the new menu items and talk about them to guests.
Because the hotel’s dining rooms have to be closed for the foreseeable future, Kobrin is looking to create special dining experiences on the hotel’s terrace overlooking the Old City. He wants to introduce a jazz breakfast and a jazz high tea. The main reason for the jazz is a strategy he hopes will attract the potential millennium clientele. The King David will always be happy to host its traditional guests, he says, but at the same time needs to court the next generation and cater to the trends of that generation.
Another reason for his fondness for jazz is that his wife Kathrine, who is also a hotel professional, is among other things a jazz singer. They met when both were working at the Ritz Carlton in New York where she was the chief concierge. Her specialties in the hotel industry are to train staff to give the best possible service, and to learn what people from different countries expect from the luxury hotel in which they are staying.
Whatever it is, stresses Kobrin, it has to be a total experience, more than just the architecture, the guestroom facilities and the in-house services; it also has to include activities.
KOBRIN’S FIRST venture into hotel employment after graduating from Les Roches was at the Three Kings Hotel in Basel, Switzerland, better known as Les Trois Rois, where the first Zionist Congress was held and where the iconic photograph of Theodor Herzl on the balcony was taken. As the resident Israeli, Kobrin was tasked with taking all Jewish visitors to the suite that Herzl had occupied as well as to the balcony where so many visitors from Israel and elsewhere in the Jewish world sought to be photographed themselves.
When Kobrin was working in India, the Israel ambassador told him he should be working for the Foreign Ministry because he had such an excellent rapport with ambassadors from Muslim countries, including Iran, despite the fact that he never hid his Israeli identity. Kobrin recalls that on one occasion in India when he and his wife were standing in line to greet the guests at an important social event, the Iranian ambassador did not shake hands with Kobrin’s wife, but the following day sent a note of apology explaining that in his country shaking a woman's hand was not done.
Like many general managers of high-end hotels, Kobrin’s CV indicates he seldom stays anywhere for more than three years. This nomadic existence is not always a matter of choice, he notes. When someone works in a managerial position for an international hotel chain, there is a lot of transferring from one city or country to another, simply because top management decides the talents of X or Y who has done well in one locality would be useful in another. Moreover, the reputation of a good manager quickly comes to the attention of other hotel chains, which dangle tempting offers for employment.
When Kobrin gave up his Indian appointment in favor of the King David, he had several other offers under his belt, but for him, the King David was the most significant of all.
So how long does he plan to stay at the King David?
Kobrin laughs.
“The King David is not a place on which you put a timeline,” he says. “When you put a timeline on anything, it restricts you. I came with passion and I want to contribute and bring hospitality to its finest level. It’s not about me, it’s about hospitality the hotel and Jerusalem.”
Early in his career, when people asked where he came from, Kobrin had to show them where Israel was on the map. He doesn’t have to do that anymore. The world knows about Israel and about Jerusalem.
Eventually, although he still has many working years ahead of him, Kobrin will have to retire. Where will he want to live? He already owns a house in Italy, and he would also like to spend time in the Swiss mountains, and naturally, he would likewise want to be in Jerusalem. So whether working or not, he will continue to wander from country to country.
Kobrin is hopeful that restrictions will ease by December, when the King David will mark its 90th anniversary and he will be able to have a proper celebration. The Jerusalem Post was also founded in December, two years after the establishment of the King David, and Kobrin will be only too happy "to celebrate the anniversaries of two Jerusalem icons."