Recession? What Recession?

Ritz-Carlton Bringing Luxury to Israel

And introduces mind-reading. Employees at the new super-luxury hotels have to anticipate the guests.

Israel’s hotel industry is taking a major leap forward – upward, actually – with the entry of top-of-the-market global brands Ritz-Carlton Hotel last December and the upcoming opening of Starwood’s W Hotel and Residences in Jaffa and a Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem in 2015.

Ritz-Carlton is one of the world’s most prestigious brands, with 85 hotels in 32 countries. Its arrival at the Herzliya Pituah marina, at an investment of 600 million shekels ($170 million), marks a major step-up for the hotel scene in Israel.

One of the main differences – aside from rooms that are particularly spacious, a huge spa and one of the country’s most expensive chef restaurants – is the high-quality service, starting from the selection of best possible employees.

Anyone who happened to wander into the hotel just before the opening may have felt they had stumbled into the command center of a secret society. All of the hotel’s 115 rooms and 82 apartment suites were filled to capacity, but not with guests. Instead, they were occupied by its 200 new employees plus 70 of the global chain’s top executives, including senior consultants from the company’s “leadership center,” who were flown into Israel for the occasion.

Among other tricks of the trade, the local staff received instruction on how to read the minds of hotel guests and learned the chain’s Gold Standards. They all received the small but top-secret “credo” booklets outlining the chain’s guiding principles and values, which they have to carry with them daily.

The small booklets include ironclad rules. For example, “I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating the Ritz-Carlton Mystique.”

Most of the hotel’s employees are not Israeli-born – they are mostly new immigrants. The hotel’s general manager, Gadi Hassin, has just returned from 15 years abroad and sees his job as fulfilling a Zionist mission, so he decided to find employees by way of new immigrant organizations, as well as among Foreign Ministry cadets and students from overseas.

In addition to the Ritz-Carlton, next year will see the opening of the local branch of Starwood’s W Hotel and Residences in Jaffa, as well as a Waldorf Astoria property that will open in Jerusalem. Is this some exceptional confluence of prestigious hotel brands invading the Israeli market? 

People in the business claim it’s just a coincidence, since each of these projects requires many years from the initial planning stages through to completion.

Yet Herve Humler, the founder and president of the Ritz-Carlton – who got his start running a small lodge in Abidjan made up of 30 small huts – says he believes the timing is right.

“You have many Jewish people in New York and London that come here every year and search for this kind of accommodation,” he says. “We also have many customers across Israel that are used to staying with us around the world and are looking to have such a hotel also in Israel.”

Humler says he’s not concerned about opening a luxury hotel during a time of economic uncertainty, noting that hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton actually weather difficult periods better than their more affordable competitors.

“We capture a very small market of 6 percent. Presidents and CEOs of companies still need to have a place to sleep in, so we don’t get hit as much by the financial crisis," he explains. "We survive better because our brand is a very strong global iconic luxury brand.”

Matthew Shaw