Is­rael a key global mar­ket for hospi­tal­ity in­no­va­tion

The Jerusalem Post - - TRAVEL TRENDS - • By SHIRLEY FINKELSTEIN

Is­rael hosted the high­est num­ber of tourists in Oc­to­ber than ever be­fore. Some 486,000 peo­ple, or nearly half a mil­lion vis­i­tors, came to the Holy Land – de­vot­ing 2.5 bil­lion shekels to the Is­raeli econ­omy. The record num­ber comes at a good time. Jerusalem will soon be host­ing the “Is­rael Ho­tel In­vest­ment Sum­mit,” where ho­tel man­agers will come to­gether and speak about tourism and the need to get more ac­com­mo­da­tions up and run­ning in the coun­try.

In 2000, Is­rael had about 47,000 rooms for two mil­lion vis­i­tors. In 2017, the coun­try had 55,000 rooms and 3.6 mil­lion tourists. The Tourism Min­istry is try­ing to change that. The govern­ment of­fice is in­cen­tiviz­ing build­ing by of­fer­ing grant money to de­vel­op­ers and help­ing them cut through red tape. One of the sum­mit’s key­note speak­ers, Navneet Bali, will be talk­ing about why Is­rael is a key mar­ket for hospi­tal­ity in­no­va­tion. Bali is the chair­man for Meininger Ho­tels. The Jerusalem Post first asked him “Why Oc­to­ber?”

“In gen­eral I would say there was an in­crease in Oc­to­ber be­cause af­ter the sum­mer hol­i­days,” he an­swered. “You have a lot of con­fer­ences taking place and even fes­ti­vals – like Ok­to­ber­fest and you also have in­dus­try con­fer­ences that fo­cus on the au­tumn pe­riod. Peo­ple want to get their deals done and com­plete things – so eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity seems to be good.”

Bali hopes within the next two years he will have a ho­tel up and run­ning in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He says he al­ready has scouts on the ground look­ing for the per­fect place to de­velop. Bali says Is­rael is in need of ho­tels like his that dou­ble for a hos­tel as well. The ac­com­mo­da­tions are geared to­ward those who are trav­el­ing on a bud­get. He plans to have pri­vate rooms as well as shared spaces for sin­gles with back­packs.

“Cur­rently you don’t have this in Is­rael. Ho­tels are ex­pen­sive if you’re on a bud­get and it’s not easy. Our fo­cus is to get cus­tomers to in­ter­act with lo­cals in the city and to meet each other, too,” Bali ex­plained.

Bali points to a group of tourists he be­lieves is con­tribut­ing to the num­bers: In­di­ans. Direct flights from In­dia be­came avail­able ear­lier in the year and now Air In­dia is even adding more direct flights per week to meet de­mand.

“From an In­dian per­spec­tive, it’s the flights. So that in­di­cates a level of en­gage­ment be­tween the gov­ern­ments of the two coun­tries in terms of the govern­ment re­la­tion­ships. There’s a strong pos­i­tive view of Is­rael and we ad­mire the coun­try a lot for what Is­rael has achieved.”

Bali said he be­came con­nected to Is­rael when he vis­ited on a busi­ness venture two years ago.

“WHEN YOU haven’t been to a place, you don’t know. If you only read about a place, in­clud­ing the bad press, you don’t know. But when you visit... you get the vi­brancy of the young peo­ple. For me it was the startup cul­ture, not Jerusalem or the his­tory. What impressed me was the vi­brancy of the young peo­ple. The bars when I was out for an evening drink... You go and meet peo­ple. This is the start-up cap­i­tal. It’s the coun­try that thinks like a startup. What I think Is­rael needs is a quality ac­com­mo­da­tion for a good price. There are a few hos­tels, but in gen­eral Is­rael is quite ex­pen­sive.

“The prod­uct you cur­rently see is old fash­ioned. It’s not mod­ern. It doesn’t match the ef­fect of the quality of the startup cap­i­tal,” Bali said.

An­other key­note speaker, Neil Ja­cobs, is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Six Senses Ho­tels Re­sorts Spas. Com­ing from Thai­land, he plans to talk about why Is­rael is a hot spot for in­vest­ment and tourism. But most im­por­tant for him, he will talk about his com­pany’s first re­sort ho­tel open­ing on Is­raeli soil. It will be a lux­u­ri­ous one, with 58 suites and vil­las and is sched­uled to open mid-2019.

Ja­cobs says the con­struc­tion is de­signed to in­te­grate into the desert to­pog­ra­phy and pre­serve the nat­u­ral ter­rain. He says he is thrilled about the Six Senses Spa that will open and is “equally ex­cited” about the desert ac­tiv­ity cen­ter that will in­cor­po­rate “Earth Lab.” The goal of the lab is to show­case sus­tain­abil­ity ef­forts to re­duce con­sump­tion, pro­duce lo­cally, and sup­port com­mu­ni­ties and ecosys­tems. Guests will also be able to visit camel sta­bles with an arena and groom­ing area. Guests will be able to ride the camels in the early morn­ing and dur­ing twi­light.

The set-up will also in­clude an open-air am­phithe­ater cre­ated within the nat­u­ral ter­rain. Ja­cobs calls it “Cin­ema Par­adiso,” where guests can lay be­neath the stars and have a tented Be­douin din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as well.

Ja­cobs says he be­lieves the strong­est need in Is­raeli tourism is a fo­cus on health. “In my past trav­els to Is­rael, I’ve not seen strong well­ness pro­gram­ming apart from at the Dead Sea, and as this seg­ment of travel is close to reach­ing the $500 bil­lion mark, I’m cer­tain that we are go­ing to see more rich and di­verse of­fer­ings here in the coun­try.”

The Post asked if there was any­thing tourism-re­lated that Is­raelis would find sur­pris­ing. With­out know­ing it, like Bali, Ja­cobs noted an in­flux of trav­el­ers fly­ing into Is­rael from Asia, in­clud­ing from In­dia, China, Thai­land and Viet­nam.

“In­dia also ap­pears on Is­raeli travel lists and we’re cur­rently gear­ing up for 2019, when we open Six Senses Fort Bar­wara, built in a 700-year-old fort in Ra­jasthan.”

Ja­cobs and Bali are two fea­tured speak­ers among some three dozen who will speak at the con­fer­ence. That in­cludes chefs, restau­ra­teurs, hote­liers and the Is­raeli min­is­ter of tourism. If you want to at­tend the sum­mit, you’ll need to regis­ter. It’s be­ing held on Mon­day and Tues­day, November 19 and 20th at the Hilton Ho­tel.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

A VIEW OF the Tel Aviv coast­line, a ho­tel-owner’s dream.

(Cour­tesy)

NAVNEET BALI

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