The big players in Jerusalem’s hospitality industry seem to be doing their darnedest to move away from its relying on the religious and historical significance of the city to fill hotels. As the standards of luxury hospitality have risen steadily all over the world, Jerusalem hoteliers have jumped on this bandwagon.
Now that the Waldorf Astoria has finally opened its doors after over six years and $150 million worth of construction, there are no fewer than nine five-star Jerusalem hotels. And more are on the way, including German Colony branches for Isrotel’s Exclusive Collection and the Four Seasons.
Along with luxurious furnishings, meticulously designed décor and gourmet meals, they are also offering extra services to pamper guests during their stays. Many Jerusalem hotels provide guests with spa treatments, massages, organic meals, fitness centers, guided meditation sessions and lifestyle coaching. All of these activities take place on the backdrop of stunning Jerusalem landscapes, close to the bustling city center and the Old City.
At least one luxury hotel in Jerusalem can boast major longevity. The King David Hotel has been synonymous with top-shelf comfort and elegance since it first opened in 1931. But recent competition, including the opening of the David Citadel, Mamilla and Waldorf Astoria hotels, has forced the King David to renovate and upgrade in order to stay in the game. Service standards are also being upgraded in all four hotels, in an effort to compete with one another.
But in Jerusalem, there seems to be camaraderie among hoteliers that can’t necessarily be observed in other professions. So despite the fierce competition between the King David, David Citadel and Mamilla hotels, there is also collaboration – especially when large groups of foreign dignitaries come to town. For example, when US President Obama visited in March of 2013, he was housed in the King David but other members of his entourage were accommodated at the David Citadel and at the nearby Inbal Hotel.
Luxury Worthy of the Palace
The newest hotel in the city is arguably the most luxurious. The Jerusalem Warldorf Astoria is the first branch for the world-class chain in the entire Middle East, and owners have indicated that more branches in the region may soon follow, including one in Tel Aviv.
But the Waldorf Astoria is not just a luxury hotel – it’s also a major restoration project of a building with an old Turkish-style façade and enough back stories to keep any curious party entertained. The building first served as The Palace Hotel, which was built by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. The Mufti was a severe opponent of Jewish statehood and even met with Adolf Hitler to plot the annihilation of Jews from the Arab world, but for the Palace project, he worked with a Jewish engineer named Baruch Katinka.
Later, the infamous Peel Commission of the British Mandate was headquartered in the hotel. The Haganah planted listening devices in the chandeliers of the meeting rooms, thus able to discover that they were likely to be awarded only a small portion of the contested land. This intelligence inspired a change in pre-state Zionist tactics, ultimately having a major influence on the outcome of the War of Independence.
The Waldorf Astoria chain preserved many of the building’s original architectural features, including Roman, Moorish and Arab architecture. The floors are marble, the glass ceiling in the atrium is retractable, and the ballroom features crystal chandeliers. A spa, indoor pool and a series of in-house restaurants add elegance to the public space.
The hotel is geared towards American Jews and foreign dignitaries who can afford to shell out $490 to $1400 per night. It offers them a chance to experience the Mamilla Mall, the center of town, the Old City and the rest of Jerusalem from the lap of luxury. The presence of the Waldorf Astoria in the city’s hospitality industry is likely to encourage other hotels to up their game and bring higher standards to the whole industry.
Still More Luxury in the Works
The Isrotel chain is taking advantage of the trendiness of Jerusalem’s German Colony neighborhood to launch a new luxury property as part of its Exclusive Collection. The hotel, set to open in 2015, is under construction on the corner of Emek Refaim and Derech Beit Lechem Streets and will incorporate two gutted historical buildings. It will offer guests gourmet restaurants, a spa, swimming pool, fitness room, parking, and a business center with a luxurious conference hall and meeting rooms.
Another hotel planned in the German Colony is the Four Seasons Hotel. Plans for the building include 200 rooms and 80 luxury apartments. Some residents of the neighborhood have been protesting the construction of this hotel, claiming that it will destroy the historical character of the area and block the residents’ view of the Old City. Despite all the protests, plans for construction are going ahead full steam.
Both the Four Seasons and the Isrotel will help solidify the German Colony’s status as a popular destination for luxury-seeking guests.
As more luxury hotels are built in Jerusalem, offering both physical comfort and excellent service, the city will attract more tourists with money to spend. Jerusalem has always been the premium destination for those seeking a spiritual experience, but now business and pleasure travelers have more reasons to choose Jerusalem over other cities.