The hotel industry, like many others, is still very much a male-dominated affair. Four women in the business talk of the field from their perspective.

Tourists float in the Red Sea (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Tourists float in the Red Sea
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
‘Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.”
Legendary jazz crooner Billie Holiday belted out the breezy lyrics of this classic tune back in 1936, but under the scorching Mediterranean July sun in Israel 2017, they could not ring more true.
The country’s Tourism Ministry reported two weeks ago that Israel is now experiencing its best half-year in the history of its tourism industry. Traveler records have been broken month after month thus far in 2017; in June alone a whopping 303,000 tourists arrived in the country to bask in the glorious and infamous Israeli heat.
During the first six months of the year, a total of 1.74 million tourists entered the country, generating NIS 9.4 billion in revenues.
In June alone, a total of about 19,300 travelers entered as day visitors, as opposed to 8,700 in June 2016, according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics. This is a rise of 28% and the Tourism Ministry expects to see a similar rise once statistics from July and August will be compared to the previous year.
These statistics are surely good news for Israel’s economy.
They are also especially heartwarming for the people who eagerly await the arrival of vacationers all year round: the professionals making up the country’s hospitality industry, who work around the clock to ensure that tourists will enjoy their taste of Israel and return for more next summer.
At their helm are the men and women who toil behind the scenes to compose the perfect getaway for the hundreds of thousands of travelers who pass through each summer. Flower arrangements, room decorations, breakfast buffets – the list of amenities they oversee is never-ending. We spoke to some of the women at the forefront of the hospitality industry to find out what their work really entails and whether or not the livin’ is easy for them during this time of the year.
The Instagram-worthy vacation
One of the people enjoying the peak in tourism (and may very well be contributing to it) is American-born, now Israel-based entrepreneur Hani Sand.
Sand is the founder of a personalized, luxury travel service in which she crafts tours throughout Israel for her clients according to their individual preferences and personal taste.
Each itinerary is entirely different, and Sand says that aside from “must stops” (Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Negev, Tel Aviv and its beaches are a few) she always tries to surprise her diverse clientele and herself.
“I founded Travel Composer a year ago, but I say it’s been in the making since I was seven years old, because my father’s a hotelier. I grew up in the industry. That means that I physically grew up in hotels. My father showed me the business, so hospitality comes to me naturally,” Sand recalls.
She made the choice to step out of the hotel scene and get involved in the hospitality industry from the perspective of the tourists. “Being a female hotelier, especially in the years when you want to have a family, is so challenging. I applaud the women who choose to go down that path,” Sand says.
Some may say that Sand’s initiative, as a small start-up which seems to be aimed only at those whose pockets are deep enough to afford such a service, isn’t really contributing to the tourism industry at large, and doesn’t reflect the normal vacation of the average traveler, but Sand is quick to differ.
“You don’t have to be a millionaire to use a service like the one I offer, but that’s where the whole tourism industry is going these days: toward the individualized, perfected experience.”
Sand touches on a valid point. If today’s tourist is forever chasing after the most photogenic, Instagram-worthy frame, why not entice him or her with a service such as hers, which guarantees that every moment of their Israel vacation would look and feel as close to how they dreamed it would as possible? “It’s a service that I’m doing for my country,” she claims, “and believe me, it’s working much more than any video the Ministry of Foreign Affairs releases online.”
Sand says that part of the reason she did not pursue a career as a hotelier was what she referred to as the gender-biased and misogynistic approach she encountered along the way. “Regrettably, in our day and age I’m still struggling to give you multiple examples of female hoteliers manning key positions at the large hotels in Israel,” she says.
At the same time, Sand is just as quick to convey that women are the powerful driving force behind the tourism and hospitality industries.
“Most of the time, those who plan the trips are women. Eighty percent of my initial conversations with clients are with the wives, the mothers… the husband sometimes joins the call for five minutes or even reaches out, but that’s rare. The travel industry is still very much women-oriented.”
Even when terrorism strikes
Ruth Kaplan, the general manager of the Villa Brown Hotel in Jerusalem (the newest addition to a trendy chain of high-end boutique hotels operating mainly in Tel Aviv), is a living testament to the fact that women can and do succeed in the hotel industry here.
Kaplan says that there is no secret recipe for success. The only way to go about it, she believes, is working your way from the ground up. “I’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years,” she tells The Jerusalem Post Magazine.
“I started out as a waitress at the Sheraton Plaza Hotel when I was a student. After that I worked as a receptionist, then I oversaw the maintenance of the rooms and from there I moved on to other large hotels.”
Kaplan says that her advice to women who want to make it in the hospitality industry in Israel and elsewhere is “to start from the basics, from the very bottom. Work in every section of the hotel, learn it and climb your way up.”
It seems that Kaplan has a keen understanding of the challenges hoteliers face in the country, especially because of the attractive but volatile location of the Villa Brown. It’s hard to lure tourists to come for a visit not because of the weather but due to the constant, looming threat of terrorism.
The sister of the wildly popular Brown Beach House, Brown TLV and The Poli House, Villa Brown opened its doors to travelers just this past May amid a wave of terrorist attacks that struck the capital.
The 24-room luxury boutique hotel is based in a preserved site from the 19th century and located on Hanevi’im Street, a few minutes walk from the Old City. On the same Friday that Kaplan spoke to the Post, terrorists attacked a group of policemen not far from the hotel and killed two officers.
“Such events definitely affect tourism,” Kaplan laments. “But tourists will always keep coming to Jerusalem, despite the tensions. We try to emphasize the beauty and history of the city and the option to combine those two aspects while staying in Jerusalem.
“You need to truly love this job in order to do it, and support from the family is also a must,” she says.
Competing with technology
Drawing tourists to visit any particular country has become increasingly difficult in recent years, even when the destination is not considered dangerous. Ronit Shoham-Lavi, the marketing communications manager of the Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel for the past four years, attributes the struggle to “a drastic change that the field of hospitality and tourism has been undergoing in the past decade since the introduction of OTAs (online travel agents) into our lives.”
Whereas before vacationers would turn to personal travel agents to book a stay at a hotel and base their decision on a brochure displaying few details, “today with the multitude of websites such as and people don’t need travel agents,” Shoham-Lavi continues.
And she has a point: when was the last time you called up a travel agent to plan a trip? In the age of modern technology, you can compare and contrast between hotels and their prices from the comfort of your home.
“People want to see what the facilities on the ground are like, what restaurants and entertainment the area around their hotel has to offer,” she says. “And it doesn’t end there; when guests get to the hotel, they want to test whether they will actually receive the promise the pictures they saw online held.”
To help maintain their competitive edge Shoham-Lavi and the rest of the staff are geared toward providing personalized and intimate service.
“I always try to anticipate guests’ needs before they even occur to them, as does the rest of the team,” she says. Asked whether this approach can be traced back to the feminine touch, the female flair for hospitality Shoham-Lavi doesn’t necessarily agree.
“I don’t think that gender is an issue in our profession, and I try not to look at it. The question is how professional a person is,” she stresses, and says she never felt disparaged in her profession because of gender discrimination.
Rules of nature
While Shoham-Lavi thinks that women are beginning to take the reins from men in the Israeli hospitality industry, others could not disagree more. Ruti Broudo, founder of the first boutique hotel in Israel, charges that “this is simply not the case.”
“There’s something about the rules of nature… once you start raising kids, it’s almost impossible to do it. It can be done, but it’s hard.”
Broudo opened the Hotel Montefiore, adjacent to Tel Aviv’s bustling Rothschild Boulevard, back in 2008. Since then she and her husband Mati have expanded their work and launched some of the country’s staple luxury venues, which have become a hit with locals as well as tourists.
Among their refined brands are Coffee Bar (a restaurant that is considered iconic in Israel since its opening in 1994), Brasserie M&R (the classic French bistro is Tel Aviv’s most popular dining hub) and Rothschild 12 (hip cafe by day and live music bar by night).
Broudo says that despite their acclaim, they, too, had to take some hits over the years.
“When the conflict with Gaza took place in the summer of 2014, we, who are used to being fully booked, struggled to fill up all of our rooms.
And mind you, we’re not a huge hotel – there are 12 rooms overall.”
While she doesn’t think that female hoteliers in the country are as successful as men, she does believe that “women almost always are better hosts.”
“I’m sorry if it sounds unfeminist,” she laughs. “But it’s a given. I see it with our clients. When people walk into a hotel they want to feel caressed, they want to feel spoiled. I’m happy to say that women have that ability more than men. The sensitivity, the ability to read the customer, to see when he’s in distress – women are usually better geared towards that.”
However, Broudo insists that “it’s not a matter of gender. It’s also not a war of the sexes.”
According to her, the real reason being a hotelier is so hard is that “the world is changing. Men, too, now leave their workplaces earlier to be with their children. Global priorities have changed. Family has gone back to be a leading value. People want to spend more time at home.”