Inside the walls of its historic Old City, Jerusalem becomes sacred. This is the cradle of civilization, holy for all Abrahamic religions. Jerusalem has a profound religious significance to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and traveling here is a must. Jews will pray at the western wall, the last remains of the second Jewish temple, destroyed by the Romans. Christians see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Christian Quarter, to be the holiest site in the world. Muslims believe that prophet Mohammed was carried from Mecca to Jerusalem. The Al-Aqsa gray dome Mosque is the 3rd most important site for muslims.
For centuries many pushed hard and vigorously for coexistence between the religions. A challenging and not a simple task. In the meantime an oasis of tranquility is certainly what is needed here. The ultimate place dates back to the late 19th century, initially a house that with time became a luxury hotel – The American Colony.
“The hotel used to be an old Ottoman Pasha house in the early 1900s and through the years it became a guest house and then eventually a full service hotel, with restaurants, bar, swimming pool and fitness. If you want to live in the old days, but with modern luxury, that’s the place to be in Jerusalem,” says Swiss General Manager, Guy Lindt.
Switzerland is known for its high-quality hospitality industry and reputation for excellence in services and education for the hospitality industry. This country has a long tradition of providing exceptional hospitality services, particularly in areas such as luxury hotels, resorts, and culinary experiences. In the 1980s a group of 66 American, British and Swedish members, descendants of the original owners of the American Colony hotel, decided that a professional hotels management company based in Switzerland would manage it on their behalf. Ever since all General Managers were Swiss. “A hotelier from my country at the top of the pyramid represents at the same time professionalism and neutrality,” says Lindt. “In a city like Jerusalem this is clearly a message that the 92 rooms American Colony hotel is an open house for all, with no restrictions or limitations. This is why endless diplomatic dialogues were taking place here. The most familiar ones were the negotiations prior to the Oslo accords 30 years ago.”
Under Lindt’s leadership the American Colony hotel is apparently reaching new heights. For the last 13 months the hotel has been ranked at Jerusalem’s hotels top of TripAdvisor. This crowd sourcing revolutionized online site provides us for more than a decade reviews of hotels and tourism activities, so we can receive positive assurance before booking a trip. Tripadvisor’s ‘Annual Travelers Choice’ prestigious badge is presented by chosen proud hotels on their websites, front desk and correspondence.
Lindt is currently the only foreign hotel General Manager in this challenging city. The rest are all Israelites and this TripAdvisor ranking is flattering to a person that works in Israel for only 5 years. I was trying to understand the enormous jump in ranking during Lindt’s leadership. I spent 48 hours as a guest in the hotel, enjoyed the classy design of the refurbished room, the marvelous Jerusalem stone-made swimming pool, the non-kosher generous breakfast under the trees in the courtyard and the unforgettable dinner by the fountain. It was impeccable. With a majority of in-house Israeli guests it was surprisingly an intriguing relaxation time. My research and guest experience, followed by a pleasant conversation with the outgoing General Manager, led to numerous fascinating revelations.
״I believe that COVID had a major affect,” reveals Lindt. “The country was under on-and-off lockdowns and Israelis, known for being extremely active travelers, had difficulties to leave the country. The American Colony was a solution by being an International oasis, reflecting a feeling of an abroad trip. The numbers of Israelis jumped from 2-3% to more than 12%. Their experience was extremely positive and they showed it by positive reviews. The numbers keep growing, evidence of satisfied customers,” he says.
“COVID had an additional significant affect,” continues Lindt. “A majority of the non-Israelites team members were not entitled to furlough compensations. Our owners were determined to cover these costs in order to make sure employees will return once the borders open again. They sure did and showed appreciation with loyalty and a greater professional service than ever.”
Lindt initiated a major change in marketing as well. The American Colony, under his leadership, joined Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH). A community of independently minded spirited hotels on the globe. 520 hotels in more than 90 countries, all with just 50 rooms on average, with highest standards of luxury and guest wellbeing are members. SLH also enjoys exclusive strategic alliance with Hyatt, providing 16 million World of Hyatt members the opportunity to earn and redeem points and receive exclusive on-property benefits. “That was a true team work initiative and the outcome was positive. 25% of our bookings come ever since from SLH , contributing significantly to our growth, loyalty and customer satisfaction,” reveals Lindt.
The Swiss Boss is not just a hotel manager. He is also a chef and gastronomy is an important part of his life. His brilliant move with the American Colony, by collaborating with a celebrity chef was a success. The internationally renowned Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi, famous for working with Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born British chef, arrived from London to periodically update the restaurant menu. Tamimi works together with talented Executive Chef Darwish Yasin, combining rich flavors with a refreshing and modern approach to cater for all. The positive gastronomy feedback and the public relations initiative that followed certainly had a major contribution on improving the American Colony ranking.
Guy Lindt is no stranger to exotic and unique locations. He worked in the Maldives, the Philippines, Bora Bora, Canada, Switzerland and numerous other countries. However when he was offered the job in Jerusalem it was one of his biggest professional challenges. “No General Manager can get a better recognition to his professionalism than managing this magical hotel with so much history,״ he says. Lindt will shortly turn 60 and he certainly hopes to continue for an additional year at the American Colony.
César Ritz is probably the most known Swiss hotelier ever. He was a hotel chain founder more than a 100 years ago, known as “King of Hoteliers” and “Hotelier to Kings” and it is from his name and that of his hotels that the term ‘ritzy’ derives.
With an open mind to embrace new markets, diverting to a new loyalty program, revitalizing gastronomy and standing by his team members in times of crisis, Guy Lindt is certainly my nowadays Swiss ritzy hotelier. Now he is also taking the American Colony Hotel Jerusalem to the top of the leading customer review site on the globe.