By Jan Shure
January 29, 2009
It might be time for Israeli hoteliers to get into the real world.
I am planning to go – together with my husband and other family members – to a family wedding in Israel in early September. The simchah falls after the UK Bank Holiday and US Labor Day (which mark the end of the summer season), and before Israel gets busy for the New Year and festivals, so you might expect the rates in Israeli hotels to reflect that. Sadly they do not. There, a buoyant 2008 – Israel’s 60th birthday year – saw hotels full despite exorbitant rates, possibly leading hoteliers into the deluded belief that they could continue to charge as if the world was in the midst of a boom rather than deep in recession. And don’t mention the war – there is the small matter of a small war whose vivid images have been splashed over every newspaper and TV screen for the past four weeks, not necessarily an inducement for the uninvolved to visit (possibly the reason why direct flights to Eilat from the UK have been cancelled, apart from one at half-term and one pre-Pesach).
But back to the wedding… it is taking place in a magical spot in Hadera Forest, and the wedding party is based in Herzliya – at the Daniel Hotel, as it happens, which was the base when my daughter married in Israel in 2005. Then, the room rate we secured for our guests was from $170 per night, and the fares were around £275 return. Currently – despite the world-wide recession – the air-fare quoted (by phone on Thursday January 29) by El Al was £444.90 (compared with £310 with BA). But yet more unbelievable, is the room-rate at the Daniel –a jaw-dropping $270 per night for “superior” (i.e. basic) room (compared, say, with the UK’s leading boutique brand, Malmaison where you can get a double room with breakfast for £100 per night).
Thinking the Sharon, just along the tayelet might be offering a more realistic rate in line with its – how shall I put this: lack of, um, polish and luxury – I called. There, however, they wanted and even more astonishing $280 per night for a double room at that period. Two hundred and eighty dollars, I repeated loudly and incredulously, to the hapless reservation clerk. Was this a joke? Did she know you can get a room at almost any of London’s august hotels for half that, I asked, somewhat rhetorically.
As travel editor, I get press releases every day on the alluring offers from individual hotels, hotel groups and travel operators on the great deals designed to tempt the credit crunched. I am not knocking Herzliya – I love it; it has a truly fabulous beach, some terrific bars and restaurants, it is close enough to Tel Aviv to take advantage of the city’s even more fabulous restaurants as well as its cafes and shops, and it is just an hour from Jerusalem with its spiritual and architectural treasures. But, realistically, Herzliya cannot compete with some of the truly world-class resorts around the Med. And if Jewish families go (and return year after year), it is partly for the resort’s charm, but partly out of altruism and the sheer pleasure of being in Israel, eating kosher and seeing friends and family.
But when you can stay in world-class hotels in France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus Turkey, Spain and Portugal – to say nothing of resorts farther afield – at far lower rates, how do these hotels hope to fill their rooms this coming year as the recession bites? It is one thing for a hotel to want a realistic room rate, but entirely another being greedy. I may be wrong, , but I suspect the Israeli hotel industry is in for a shock when its regular visitors do their sums and realise that one week at the Sharon Hotel (in low-ish season) would cost (at the quoted rate) £1,552 for two people – before they purchase airline tickets or spend a single shekel on meals and extras...