Despite Syria Fears: Israeli Hotels Were Packed Over Rosh Hashanah

Sharp increase in requests for Tourism Ministry subsidies for new hotels may indicate industry revival.

Israel's hotels were nearly full during the Rosh Hashanah holiday with little change in occupancy rates from last year. Despite some initial cancellations over fears of a U.S. strike in Syria, hotels quickly recovered lost reservations for the long weekend once the United States announced a delay.

According to the Israel Hotel Association, hotels in Haifa and at the Dead Sea reached 95-100%; Jerusalem was at 95%; Tiberias and Netanya both saw 90-95% occupancy; Eilat saw 90%; and Tel Aviv and Herzliya reached 80%.

The Fattal hotel chain said it was booked solid. "Most reservations were for the entire holiday period because in advance we required a commitment of at least three nights," according to the group’s general manager, Reuven Elkas. "We were attentive to the market and if it didn't respond positively we would have changed it to two-night cycles but this wasn't necessary because demand was high."

The Rimonim chain also reported full occupancy across all its hotels throughout the country, as it did last year. "When the holidays fall close to August it's worse for hotels because of the very short term financial strain on Israelis," CEO Eran Kviatek said. "We were a bit concerned that demand would be lower, but we didn't suffer and managed to fill the hotels at good rates. At first we ran a little more specials but as time drew closer the prices rose in accordance with demand.”

Kviatek said his hotel chain faced a hurdle preparing for the holiday when the crisis in Syria flared up. "We were a little worried that Rosh Hashanah would be hard hit due to the U.S. threats but we settled down the moment it was postponed," he said.

The fear of a strike in Syria tacked onto the logistical challenges of providing special holiday dinners to a hotel full of guests.

Isrotel, another hotel change, also reported 100% occupancy during the Rosh Hashanah holiday. "A holiday beginning Wednesday and entering into the weekend is usually good for hotels," said director for sales and marketing, Nahum Kara. "Our hotels were full and I believe the same goes for all the hotels in Eilat and the Dead Sea. Rosh Hashanah is a direct continuation of August which was also marked by high occupancy. We're enjoying the benefits of the September school holidays."

Bed and breakfasts were fuller than expected and saw more than 90% of rooms occupied during the holiday, says the head of the Eretz Hagalil association, Sharon Lifschitz. "Before the holiday, when U.S. Presdient Barack Obama threatened to attack Syria, some bed and breakfasts received a few isolated cancellations but were quickly refilled," she said. "All the bed and breakfasts did well, and since this year the holiday eve fell on a Wednesday, most of them insisted on a minimum three–night minimum, which brought in more revenue. This is a very family-oriented holiday so in many places we saw families arriving together, particularly in the kibbutzim, and renting a number of units."

Requests for funding up 25%

The past year saw a 25% increase in the number of applications funding received by the Tourism Ministry. The ministry’s investment arm provides grants to help entrepreneurs establish new hotels. According to the ministry, the rise is evidence of a revival in the market over recent months, including both constructing new hotels and transforming existing structures for hotel use.

Jerusalem and Tiberias drew the largest numbers of applications. The Tourism Ministry also noted a rise in the use of zoning laws allowing boutique hotels in downtown areas.

The investment arm approved 45 applications over the past year, amounting to NIS 261 million for hotel construction, expansion, conversion, and renovation, as well as for setting up a number of tourist attractions. This includes grants for building 22 new hotels which will supply 1,378 additional rooms throughout the country.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz