Rafi Baeri is vice president of marketing and sales at the Dan Hotels Corp., Israel’s largest luxury hotel chain. Billing itself as the “oldest and most prestigious” hotel chain in Israel, it owns and operates 13 hotels with 3,300 rooms in major cities throughout the country, including three in Jerusalem and two in Tel Aviv. The Jewish Week spoke to him recently about the tourism industry.
Jewish Week: How has the worldwide recession had an impact on your hotels?
Rafi Baeri: Last year was the year in which we felt the worldwide recession. We experienced a drop in the amount of money people wanted to spend on leisure activities and Israel travel, compared to European destinations.
How significant was the drop?
There was a 20 percent drop in room nights worldwide, but in Israel the drop was less — about 13 percent — because of a pickup in domestic travel. The Israeli economic was not impacted as much by the worldwide recession. We had no credit problems, our banks are strong and Israelis continued to travel and spend their holidays in the hotels.
What do you foresee for 2010?
Based upon what we saw the first three months of this year and from reservations for future stays, we anticipate a 56 percent increase. I have met here with travel agents and tour operators and they are very optimistic. People are traveling again and interest in Israel is growing.
If you realize this rate of growth, how will it compare to prior years?
We hope it will surpass the previous record year of 2008 when 3 million people visited Israel. The projection now is for 3.3 million tourists nationwide this year. We were completely full for Passover this year. It’s nice to start 2010 with a sellout.
Do you get many guests from the United States?
The American market for the Dan Hotels continues to be strong – they account for about 40 percent of our guests.
All of our hotels are five star, deluxe hotels. The three in Jerusalem are headed by the King David. There are also the Dan Panorama and the Dan Boutique Jerusalem, a smaller hotel with a unique design that is young in spirit and has beautifully appointed rooms. The motif is animated films because it is located across the street from the Center of Animation Film. The hotel has screens all over and people can watch students from the film department at work.
I understand your hotel in Caesarea offers something special.
The Dan Caesarea has the only golf course in Israel. It has 18 holes and we just reopened it two years ago following renovations. It is considered one of the top courses in the world. A lot of people who don’t think of Israel as a place to play golf will now be able to come on golf holidays.
Is there any area of the country that Americans are increasingly visiting?
Eilat. It has become a very popular city for Americans in the last two years. A lot of them have been to Israel many times and want a change and Eilat is a change with its beautiful underwater diving and glass bottom boat. You can charter a yacht on the Red Sea or take Negev desert safaris. There is a striking contrast between the blue waters of the Red Sea and the arid Negev desert.
It also borders Jordan.
Yes, and it is a wonderful gateway to Petra in Jordan. A day trip is a one-day excursion. Many people stay with us in Eilat and go to Petra on a one-day tour that can be arranged by the concierge. We have two hotels in Eilat, the Dan Eilat with 386 rooms and the Dan Panorama Eilat has 280 rooms.
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