Last year we reported that Israel’s Tourism Minister, Stas Misezhnikov, was keen to improve travel to Israel. He told us at November’s World Travel Market: “We need an extra 19,000 hotel rooms to increase competition and reduce room rates.” Mr Misezhnikov insisted: “There will be no more paying five-star prices for three-star hotels.”
Mr Misezhnikov is no longer minister as a result of the January elections, but the thinking remains the same. And one of the hotel groups which hopes to respond to his call is Britain’s Isrotel Hotel Chain, founded in 1984 by the late David Lewis.
Mr Lewis died in August 2011 but since his death the Isrotel portfolio of hotels has increased to 15, and a further two are due to open this year.
Nahum Kara, the company’s vice-president for marketing and sales, is optimistic. “There is a demand for five-star luxury hotels,” he says. To prove the point, Isrotel has now created its Exclusive Collection of hotels within its main group: the Royal Beach in Eilat, the Carmel Forest Spa Resort, the spectacular Bresheeth desert hotel in Mitzpe Ramon, and what will be Tel Aviv’s first brand-new hotel for 19 years, the flagship Royal Beach Tel Aviv.
The latter opens in the summer and features the fourth-floor swimming pool. “It’s been designed so that you feel as though you are on a cruise; you won’t be able to see the street, but you will feel as though you are on board ship. There will be a sea view from each of the 230 suites and rooms. It will be a door-to-door service from the point of landing in Israel, even providing assistance checking in and out of the airport.”
Another of the Exclusive Collection hotels will be Cramim (Vineyards), due to open in June. Cramim is due to be a central Israel version of the Carmel Forest Spa. Just 15 minutes from Jerusalem in Kiryat Anavim, Cramim, says Nahum Kara, will offer “a different type of spa treatment, based on vinotherapy”. This involves rubbing the skin with the residue of wine grapes; as Cramim is “in the heart of the wine region” there should be no shortage of resources. Cramim will differ from Carmel Forest in that it will welcome children.
Apart from Cramim, Isrotel is planning its first Jerusalem hotel due to open in the German Colony in 2015. And the company is also negotiating to run a four-star business hotel in Herzliya. Nevertheless, despite all this expansion, Mr Kara knows he has an awareness problem. “In 2012, only 170,000 UK passport holders came to Israel. Our research showed a deterioration of feeling towards Israel in the general market, but we also know there are challenges in bringing younger Jews here.”
His answer is to diversify and improve the “complete vacation environment” on offer at so many of the company hotels: from entertainment to sports facilities, from children’s creches to fine dining. He is not, he says, in the business of scaling down Isrotel’s offerings to the “boutique” hotels. Instead, he says, Isrotel has different things to offer, not least spa facilities, now available at the newly renovated Isrotel Dead Sea Resort and Spa in addition to Carmel Forest and Cramim.
As for Mr Kara himself, he is a much-travelled individual. So how does he judge his room for the night when he turns up at an unknown inn?
“Ah,” he smiles. “It’s all in the bathroom. If the hotel’s bathroom is super-clean, taken care of properly, with good products and a really efficient shower — to me, that’s the sign of a great hotel.” Everything else, he assures me, is commentary.