The hottest thing in the Israeli hospitality business is massive, isolated and expensive: more and more resorts are popping up these days across the country, each more opulent and pricey than the next, aimed to provide the best holiday escape experience for Israel's one-percenters.
The current boom spots are the Negev, the southern desert area, and Lake Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. 12 years ago, the opening of the Beresheet Hotel in Mitzpeh Ramon in the south, an area famous for the Ramon Crater, was considered revolutionary in local terms. Just a few months ago Six Senses Shaharut in the Arava region in the southeast was launched, and before we could recover from all that relaxation and happiness, we’ve seen reports in recent weeks of new expensive resorts to go up.
Fattal Hotels and Kibbutz Ein Gev recently announced that they will build a “luxury resort on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.” The site will cover the north of the kibbutz at an investment of 150 million shekels, and we’re being promised five stars. According to the press release, this will be “a unique resort with an exclusive concept and the highest international hotel standards, aimed at both Israelis and [foreign] tourists seeking to vacation in quality luxury hotels.”
The lakeside site is scheduled to open in 2025 and feature 120 rooms – half with their own swimming pool – chef restaurants, a health club, a spa with a heated indoor swimming pool, a lobby, conference rooms and convention halls. Feigin Architects is handling the design.
There’s no use asking who needs a private pool and an indoor pool when the Kinneret, blue and beautiful, sits meters away. A more relevant question is whether Ein Gev, which already has a good holiday resort aimed at families, needs another hotel complex. This is especially the case since a bit north sits the Setai chain’s resort village, which has 158 villas described as “opulent,” many of them coming with a private pool, “Israel’s largest spa complex.”
A pool by the lake
The two common denominators to sites calling themselves resorts are the very high prices and the aspiration to be a perfect spot providing varied entertainment and quality service. Six Senses charges around 4,000 shekels ($,1210) per night, and Beresheet 2,500 shekels (with a two-night minimum). Setai Sea of Galilee charges 2,000 shekels a night and Dan Caesarea 2,000 shekels, with a suite 5,000. The new resorts under construction aim for the same celestial prices.
One problem of a resort is the use of a large chunk of land in a small country where real estate is extremely expensive. Six Senses covers 180 dunams (45 acres), Setai Sea of Galilee 100 dunams, Carmel Forest near Haifa 75 dunams and Beresheet 50. The two leisure villages currently under construction declare smaller sizes – Ein Gev 26 dunams and one in Arad in the south 20.
Haim Statyahu, Ein Gev’s tourism chief, has no doubt that the new Sea of Galilee project is needed. For him, a veteran hotelier in the area, the new resort is a dream come true. “It will provide five-star accommodations that are sorely lacking in our area. Demand has grown in recent years for high-quality hospitality,” he says. “The new place will have the vibe of a resort of the highest quality. People appreciate a good product, and we’re aiming at Beresheet’s level.”
Is there demand for luxury accommodation here?
“There is a market for the highest level. That’s the most lucrative niche in hotel management. You need accommodations for all niches, from youth hostels to luxury hotels, but the high-end one, at high-end prices, is the most lucrative ... and there’s high demand for it.”
The head of the Kinneret Urban Union and the Jordan Valley Regional Council, Idan Grinbaum, says there is massive interest in putting up new hotels in the area.
“Investors and developers never stop approaching me, all wanting to build resort villages at the highest level,” he says. “Developers aim there because they think they can charge high prices. I view their interest positively, and the fact that the Kinneret has become desirable.”
How do you explain it?
“There’s a lot of cash available in the market and everybody is looking for investments, and everybody realizes that there’s only one Kinneret. The Kinneret should offer the full mix, from the backpacker with a tent to the fanciest hotel like the Setai or the new place in Ein Gev.”
Are there are no concerns that these hotels will appropriate the shoreline; they’ll turn the natural resource into a private asset?
“Nobody can close the beach. The beach doesn’t belong to the hotel. Maybe people have a hard time understanding that, but it’s true. The right of way in front of the Setai is maintained. That’s the way it will be at the new hotel in Ein Gev. The right of free passage will be preserved. The lakeshores belong to everyone, and we’ll insist on that in any development and any situation.”
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Dan Caesarea has always been considered a nice hotel with a good reputation and a golf course next door. Three years ago, it was reopened following renovations, but this time the owners insisted on calling it a resort.
Eyebrows were raised, as nothing had changed in the hotel’s structure or location; it was still pretty far from the beach. Still, its website now reads: “What was, until a few months ago, a classic hotel etched in the memories of an entire generation, is now a phenomenal resort that has embraced a new approach to the old hotel. From a hotel that offered pleasant rooms for guests, a unique resort has been created that affords a complete and ultimate experience of relaxation and happiness.”
Another example is a new resort being built in Arad, again in southern Israel. 7Minds, a Fattal subsidiary, and Tel Aviv real estate developer White City Buildings bought the site at Arad’s eastern end where the Masada Hotel once stood. At an expected investment of 200 million shekels, they plan to put up “an especially luxurious desert resort site at five-star deluxe standards.”
The place is due to open in three years, with the company saying that it “will be the first of the company’s high-end desert resorts.”
The Arad hotel will feature 110 suites with private balconies and pools, three common pools, a spa, an events space, a nightlife complex, a gym and two chef restaurants. Bar Orian Architects will design the site.
Oren Pascal, partner at 7Minds, has thus far developed small urban hotels in Tel Aviv, so the site at Arad is a new direction for him.
“A resort needs to be a desert island. It gives the guest a 24/7 experience at the hotel. The guest can choose never to leave the hotel. COVID made us think a little differently. We saw that specialists in resort villages thrived during this period. Despite the lockdowns, they made more than in previous years,” he says.
“The site in Arad is within city limits, but you feel outside the city. All the rooms face the landscape, so you see nothing but desert. The model is Beresheet, which sits on the edge of the Ramon Crater. Arad has its advantages – only an hour and a half from the center of the country, and a desert experience including sites like Masada and the Dead Sea.”
And the price range?
Most accommodations in the desert are modest. Six Senses and Beresheet are the outliers. The media notices them, but most places are basic. We’re aiming for the highest standards and are compromising on nothing. The rooms will include pools and patios. I assume the price will be similar to Beresheet – 1,500 to 2,000 shekels per night.”
The establishment of the sites at the Sea of Galilee and in Arad suggests that Fattal is seeking opportunities to compete with Six Senses, and mostly with Isrotel, which operates Beresheet, Cramim near Jerusalem and Carmel Forest. Fattal declined to comment.
Nahum Kara, marketing and sales chief at Isrotel, says a vacationer wants everything in one place – a swimming pool, restaurants, spa, shops.
“Isrotel started in Eilat and our main base of operations is still there,” he says. “From a local Eilat chain we expanded around the country. The opening of Beresheet 12 years ago was a key milestone at a major investment of 200 million shekels with 110 rooms. It has proved itself.”
How many sites at this standard does Israel need?
“Israel has quite a few people with money who have no problem spending high amounts for high-quality products. We were the first with Beresheet, but when something is successful, competition quickly springs up. Six Senses is more expensive than Beresheet, and I think it’s successful too.
“All seven of our exclusive hotels” – Beresheet, Cramim, Royal Beach Eilat, Royal Beach Tel Aviv, Orient, Carmel Forests and Mitzpe Hayamim – “are success stories. Some will say it’s because Israelis aren’t going abroad. In normal times, 45 percent of our guests were [foreign] tourists. Now the hotel is nothing but Israelis.”
Will Isrotel build another Beresheet?
“We have a project under construction in Jaffa that will be exclusive, but it’s not Beresheet.”