(Continued from last week)
Many people are beginning to understand that the tourism sector is a bedrock of peaceful Jewish-Arab co-existence. People from both communities work diligently, side-by-side, hour-to-hour, at all levels of the industry, from the kitchen to the front desk to the management suite. Tourism accounts for at least 6 percent of the Israeli economy. Some estimate that tourism supports or helps support fully 200,000 jobs, mainly in hotels. Hence, the fruits of Israeli tourism nourish all sectors of Israeli society, albeit not at an equal speed or volume, as Arab towns complain that they have not yet rebounded because of the unrest in their localities.
The fact that some hotels are reporting fewer bed nights can be misconstrued. Alternative lodging modalities, such as Airbnb have caught on in Israel. Airbnb currently offers a range of more than 300 accommodations from spare rooms to luxury villas. That means Israeli hotels must compete both with each other and with spare rooms and flat rentals.
As usual, no tourism article is complete without some hotel reviews. Here are a few of many favorites.
WALDORF ASTORIA JERUSALEM.
Recently opened in March 2014, The Waldorf Astoria has quickly changed the hotel landscape in Jerusalem. In the 1920s, the architectural wonder served as The Palace Hotel, built by the rabid anti-Semite and Nazi collaborator Haj Amin al-Husseini, aka the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. It served as the luxurious headquarters of Britain’s 1936–37 Peel Commission, which declared the two-state solution. During the Commission’s deliberations, the pre-State military known as the Haganah, planted microphones in the chandeliers to monitor progress.
After years of refurbishment, rumored to cost $150 million, the 226-room hotel re-opened as a luxurious pinnacle where every angle viewed, standing still or walking, creates a geometric progression of shape and contour. No wonder the Waldorf seized the #1 ranking in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2015 annual survey of Mideast hotels. Unlike other Jerusalem hotels staffed by Israelis, the Waldorf’s key staff includes hotel professionals who have transferred in from lodging industry posts throughout the world. Every moment spent in the Waldorf’s magnificent rooms or its soaring lobby is a journey of enrichment.
THE KING DAVID HOTEL JERUSALEM.
The foundation of Jerusalem’s elegant hotel scene is built upon the revered King David Hotel, which shines as the automatic address for diplomats, statesmen, and international leadership, as well as the crème of hotel aficionados. The very definition of stately, The King David’s many cornerstones in Israeli history are well known. When it was a Mandatory British headquarter, it was bombed by Menachem Begin. The King David has hosted many heads of state and, on occasion, must cancel all reservations as it did when Russian president Vladimir Putin suddenly took the entire hotel for a visit in 2012. Boasting a patio with an unrivaled view of the Old City walls, a classic lobby and anterooms with a table used to sign the peace treaty with Jordan, a staff that exemplifies dignity, and a haute cuisine breakfast buffet, there is simply none other in Israel that rivals The King David for sheer presence and prestige.
The measure of Israel’s fast-growing tourism industry is the burgeoning list of exquisite hotels outside of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. One in a class of its own is The Efendi, situated at the entrance of the ancient city of Akko. Formerly a disused Turkish palace, restoring The Efendi was the dream of Uri Jeremias, famed Israeli chef and owner of the fabulous Akko seafood restaurant Uri Buri.
During a years-long and often miraculous restoration project, artists from Venice and Israel painstakingly recreated and returned to life the ornate frescoes, high ceiling treatments, and structural design. Modern room décor has created the illusion of a modern visitor eavesdropping on an Ottoman existence. Imagine breakfast to order daily in a centuries-old cavern, a 400-year-old revitalized Turkish bath and spa, a youthful and effervescent staff, a rooftop open-air lounge where wine at sunset over the Mediterranean is an unforgettable experience as chanting muezzins in nearby minarets call the adhan for prayers; envision a short walk to the Crusader tunnels, passing through the Arab market just outside the lobby door, and you will understand why The Efendi is often voted as Israel’s best boutique destination hotel.
It is easy to make a geopolitical statement. But nothing is more enduring than to make that statement in person by traveling to Israel and vowing at Ben Gurion airport that you will soon return.
Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust, and a syndicated columnist who travels extensively, frequently reviewing the hotels he stays in. He can be found at www.edwinblack.com.
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