By Jan Shure
June 10, 2009
As the JC will report in next week’s travel pages, four Sheraton properties in Israel are to lose the Sheraton brand name that puts them firmly at the heart of the Starwood chain. According to the Israeli press, Starwood cited a need to maintain the standard of the prestige brand. But the report also claimed that franchise and management fees were in arrears. Whether Starwood is, indeed, tightening up standards, or whether they might be less assiduous in spotting flaws if fees were being paid, I have no way of ascertaining. What I do know is that two summers ago I had the misfortune to stay at one of the four – the Sheraton Plaza Jerusalem – and to say that it did not (even then)deserve the name Sheraton is an understatement on the scale of “Mount Everest is a small hill”.
I have no clear recollection of the room, beyond the fact that it was small, shabby, poorly furnished and equipped with a bathroom which would have been barely adequate by three-star standards.
I also remember that our room had a delinquent key-card unit that required us to have the card-key reprogrammed or replaced roughly every third time we tried to open our door. There were, of course, no house phones to call reception, so my husband had to descend the 12 floors to the lobby each time, have the key reprogrammed, and then return. And the lift was barely more efficient than the door unit, so the round-trip often took 15 minutes.
Ah, the lobby! Probably quite grand when the hotel opened in the late 1960s, I doubt it has been seriously refurbished or renovated since. The furnishings were shabby and the coffee shop was third-rate, despite the Arab waiters’ best efforts to be efficient and courteous.
But the very worst aspect of the hotel was the swimming pool. Access was tucked away down a fire escape – or at least, that is what the arrangement resembled – and I seem to remember signage was bad, so it took 10 minutes to find the route. There were threadbare loungers on scrubby grass, but no pool staff, no towels as I recall (and I was there in July, not December), and no facilities for buying food or a drink beyond, I think, a machine dispensing Coke (or possibly Pepsi).
Our inclination had been to check out and move elsewhere, but it was (I think I mentioned) July, and there was not much else available. I remember wondering how such a property in the heart of this magnificent city, where truly fabulous hotels abound, could survive, and how Starwood could continue to allow it to function under the Sheraton brand.
Sadly, I think I know the answer. Most of the people staying there were one-timers – Americans, Brits, Dutch, Japanese – visiting Israel on a grand tour, for the first, and probably the only time. This was the memory they will take away with them of an Israeli hotel and because they don’t plan to come back, why would they bother to complain.
And next time I hear someone moaning about the "awful hotels" in Israel, and wonder what they are talking about as I recall the mostly fine, well-run, stylish and beautifully appointed properties across the country I will remember that the complainer, perhaps, stayed at the Sheraton Plaza Jerusalem.