Destinations Editor Johanna Jainchill is visiting Tel Aviv, two months after a ceasefire ended a summer of conflict between Israel and Gaza, staying at Isrotel's year-old, 23-story Royal Beach Hotel, the first major new hotel to be built in Tel Aviv in 15 years.
It's 1 a.m. on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, and it's hard to find a seat at one of the many sidewalk cafes lining the avenue. Earlier that evening, an intimate concert performance north of Tel Aviv was packed. Over the weekend, the streets of the trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood are buzzing with families and the beach is full of surfers and strollers. The workweek begins and Delicatessen, a popular eatery in the city center, is packed with a lunchtime crowd.
Israel was at war with Gaza only two months ago. But if you didn't know that before you got here, you certainly wouldn't know it being here now.
"Everyone's back," said Leon Avigad, the owner of the Brown TLV, a boutique hotel. "It's as if it didn't happen. The day the ceasefire was signed, the bar exploded with people. The beaches were packed. People were saying, 'Everything's behind us -- let's have fun.'"
People here don't downplay the war; they speak of the horrible loss of life on both sides. The conflict dealt a serious blow to the country's tourism industry, with some hotels reporting as much as a 50% drop in business in July and August. The tiny nation was expected to lose about $500 million in tourism income over the summer, according to the Israel Hotel Association (IHA), during a year when Israel was on track to set an incoming tourism record this year, as it has done both years prior.
The 30-room Brown is usually full, but occupancy fell about 20 points during the conflict. Avigad considers himself fortunate, however, because the hotel had the benefit of being popular with foreign journalists.
"Usually we are full all the time," Avigad said. "It wasn't fun."
But in a testament to the resilience of the travel industry here, hotels are saying that business is back, and as strong as ever.
"We are very optimistic," said Hani Sand, the North America region sales manager for the Isrotel hotel chain. "Looking at 2015, a lot is happening. March through June looks amazing."
The continued pace of hotel development here also demonstrates the confidence of an industry that accepts Israel will have occasional flare-ups with its neighbors, but trusts in the enduring strength of the nation to draw tourists.
Isrotel, an operator of 17 properties in Israel, which just over a year ago opened the modern, beachfront Royal Beach Tel Aviv has two hotels under development; a five-star, 250-room Jerusalem with an expected late 2016 opening, and a four-star 100-room hotel in North Tel Aviv, slated to open in early 2017.
The Brown, where young, artsy types watch the sunset on its rooftop terrace while sipping artisan cocktails, is opening the 40-room Brown Beach House in January and has plans for a 63-room, high-end property near the Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv, scheduled to open in 2017.
Israel has been here before, and like before it has bounced back.