Israel is experiencing what local tourism experts are calling an unprecedented boom in new luxury hotels.
Several small, upscale hotels have opened around the country recently, and Isrotel, a locally based hotel chain, is undergoing a major expansion of its luxury portfolio with the opening of two properties this year.
But international luxury brands are also making their first forays to the Holy Land; the Ritz-Carlton will open its first hotel in Israel in December in Herzliya; the Waldorf Astoria is under construction in Jerusalem, with a 2014 opening date; and the W will debut its first Israel property in 2015 in Jaffa, next door to Tel Aviv.
The appeal for these companies is the record number of visitors to Israel over the past half-decade that is increasing the demand for hotel rooms of all kinds, especially upscale ones.
In 2012, 3.5 million travelers vacationed in Israel, the third year in a row that the nation's tourism record was broken.
"From elegant five-star city hotels and chic urban boutiques to seaside resorts along the Mediterranean, investors, hoteliers and entrepreneurs from Israel and around the world are seizing the opportunity to take part in the country's burgeoning hotel scene," said Haim Gutin, Israel's tourism commissioner for North and South America.
Ben Julius, founder of TouristIsrael.com, a website for independent tourism that is used by over 1 million tourists visiting Israel every year, in August launched TheLuxuryHotelsinIsrael.com in response to the opening of so many luxury hotels across the country.
Julius said that the investment in new hotels as well as older hotels being refurbished into luxurious properties in Israel is unprecedented.
"In Tel Aviv, boutique hotels have dominated the developments, with over 15 new hotels opening in the past few years," Julius said.
He added that the addition of the Waldorf Astoria, Ritz-Carlton, and W Hotels "adds a lot of prestige to the market" and reflect on the potential seen in developing Israel's luxury travel market. But it started, he said, with the small, home-grown properties.
"Local entrepreneurs, and not necessarily the established hotel operators, are the ones leading this progression and opening most of the new luxury hotels, especially the boutique properties," Julius said.
Isrotel is a company that is both home-grown and big. The chain operates 17 hotels in Israel, nine of which are located in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat.
Its 23-story Royal Beach Tel Aviv opened on June 1 as the first newly built hotel on Tel Aviv's iconic beach in 15 years.
Later that month, the company's 155-room Hotel Cramim opened on June 16 as a new spa hotel in the heart of the wine region of Judea, 15 minutes from Jerusalem.
The properties are the fourth and fifth members of Isrotel's Exclusive Collection, a separate category designated for Isrotel's five-star properties. They join the Royal Beach Eilat on the Red Sea, the Carmel Forest Spa Resort in Israel's north and the Beresheet desert resort, on the edge of the Ramon Crater.
Citing the growing demand for luxury properties in Israel, Isrotel is focused on growing its Exclusive Collection; in addition to the two hotels that opened this year, the company is building a 250-room hotel on Jerusalem's trendy Emek Refaim Street. The property will be the sixth in the collection.
"There is a strong demand for luxury properties in Israel as Israel becomes a destination for luxury travelers who are looking for the next exotic location," said Hani Sand, the North American sales manager for Isrotel. An example of the demand, she said, can be seen at Isrotel's Beresheet desert resort property, which operates at just under 90% occupancy.
Sand said that the new Royal Beach Tel Aviv offers a boutique hotel feeling but with all the facilities a larger property offers, such as a pool, spa, gym and business lounge.
The new hotel will be popular with both leisure and business travelers, she predicted.
"We expect the hotel to be predominantly for business travelers, but families are welcome year-round," Sand said.
Built among the monasteries, wineries and natural springs of the Jerusalem Hills, Isrotel's Hotel Cramim is designed to be a destination for both spa and wine lovers; the spa's signature treatments will use "vinotherapy" techniques, which incorporate wine and grape-based products.
The hotel's two-story spa has 23 treatment rooms, a solarium, saunas, Jacuzzis, and Turkish baths, with both indoor and outdoor pools. Unlike Isrotel's other spa resort in its Exclusive Collection, the Carmel Forest spa, Cramim will welcome children.
The coming of the Ritz-Carlton, the Waldorf Astoria and the W properties to Israel is creating a lot of buzz within the travel community.
The addition of such brands, Julius said, "should raise standards across the board through competition."
The city of Herzliya, situated on the Mediterranean coast just north of Tel Aviv, was chosen by Ritz-Carlton because of its "unique combination of leisure and business facilities," the company said. It is also among Israel's wealthiest enclaves and is close to Israel's "Silicon Valley,"
The 12-story property will have 115 rooms and suites, with their design inspired by the "marina lifestyle" on view from the balconies that overlook the largest marina in the country as well as Herzliya's sandy beaches.
The property will have a three-story spa as well as a rooftop bar and pool lounge that at night will serve cocktails and small bites. The hotel will become home to the first kosher Ritz-Carlton restaurant in the world, the Herbert Samuel.
The 220-room Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem was slated to open this year but is now accepting reservations starting in May. Steps away from the Old City, the hotel will open in a 1929-built structure that is undergoing an extensive renovation to restore intricate stone carvings and the decorative arches of its historical facade.
The interior of the building is being completely rebuilt and will house three restaurants; a 5,380-square-foot spa and fitness facility with a pool; and expansive conference and meetings facilities.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts is opening its first W brand hotel in Israel in 2015, in a 19th century heritage building in Jaffa, the trendy and ancient port town next to Tel Aviv known for its bustling arts and culinary scene.
The 125-room W Tel Aviv-Jaffa will offer panoramic views of the Mediterranean, a signature restaurant and destination bar as well as a spa, fitness center, an outdoor pool deck and a 24-hour business center.
"The signing of W Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the Residences at W Tel Aviv-Jaffa underlines Starwood's continued commitment to grow our portfolio of luxury brands globally," Bart Carnahan, senior vice president of acquisitions and development for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Europe, Africa and Middle East, said in a statement.
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