Atlas Hotels also is growing by leaps and bounds – it just opened the Yam Hotel by the Tel Aviv Port and additional hotels are in the works in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
“I attribute our success to the rise of the internet,” Atlas Hotels Sales and Marketing Director Uri Kronkop declares. “I don’t think we would have been able to get to where we have without the internet.
“Once entering a new hotel in the market would have taken two years, until people knew it,” he says. “Now as soon as you open a new place, it is busy because people want to stay at a new hotel. Once people had all sorts of fears about a new hotel, but now you can see everything on the website, TripAdvisor reviews, Google maps, and so on.”
Atlas operates eight boutique hotels in Tel Aviv and several more in Jerusalem, Haifa, Eilat, and near Ben-Gurion International Airport. The number of guest rooms varies from hotel to hotel, but Atlas has adopted a boutique approach at all of them (other than at its family resort in Eilat.)
“Our approach comes from the size of our properties plus the vision of the Atlas owners, who one day realized that this is what they want to do and they like doing it,” Kronkop says.
He recalls that the chain opened its first concept hotel, the Cinema Hotel, in the grand old Ester Cinema building, by Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv in July 2000. Despite the fact that tourism to Israel had plummeted since the country was in the midst of the second intifada, the new hotel was a surprisingly resounding success.
“We found there was a thirst among people from abroad, both Europeans and Americans, for hotels that have a different message, introduce a different idea, and host guests differently than other places in the world,” Kronkop says. “When the Cinema Hotel opened, even though we did not know as much about public relations as we do now, reporters from the world’s leading publications came to visit and write about it because of the special approach and the special building. The grand circular stairwell at the heart of the building just amazed people. That was when we decided this is the direction we want to go.
“Next we renovated the Center Chic Hotel and added the theme, ‘Love to live in Tel Aviv.’ Now that is banal, but then we were the first and our idea generated huge buzz. So we managed to get high occupancy and as the intifada ended, we had more and more guests.
“In 2006, we finished adding three floors to Melody Hotel. We decided to give it a theme with a twist, ‘work and play in Tel Aviv,’ so it would have a boutique approach to business class. Instead of saying only the guests on the business floor get to use the business lounge or enjoy VIP services, we offer that level of service to all guests.”
Atlas decided to introduce that approach at all of its hotels, Kronkop says, explaining, “This is why we have a happy hour every evening at all our hotels where we serve upscale refreshments that are not a meal, but give guests the feeling that what they get has added value. The happy hour also is an opportunity for staff to talk to guests and get to know them and build a personal connection with them. We have found that is what people want. We decided on free Wi-Fi for the same reason. If we are a boutique hotel, we have to include all this and we did so from the beginning, when guests at other hotels were paying a significant daily fee for Wi-Fi.”
Atlas has gone from strength to strength since, opening almost a dozen new boutique hotels, each with a unique theme. The newest addition, the Yam Hotel, focuses on the sea, sea culture in Israel and the US, and surfing. The design, colors, and even how wood in it was painted reflect this. All 43 of its guest rooms offer a view of the Mediterranean Sea from their windows and private balconies and, naturally, the hotel is a short walk from the beach.
Almost all the guests that fill the Atlas Hotels are FITs from abroad (80%). The biggest number of guests comes from the US followed by Western Europe, mainly Germany, but also France and Britain. The Atlas Hotels occasionally hosts small groups that take up to 10 guest rooms and usually are extended families that are touring Israel together, but other than that, its guests are almost exclusively FITs.
The chain’s Israeli guests can be divided into business guests who come during the week and vacationers who generally come on the weekend and holidays.
“During Christmas, most of the international guests are Israelis who live abroad and miss Tel Aviv. There also are the Tel Aviv residents who come to Market House in Jaffa for a weekend. They want to be near the beach and stay at a hotel that gives them something else,” he says. “Staying at a boutique hotel in Tel Aviv is just as romantic as traveling to a B&B in the Galilee and involves less work.”
In 2013, occupancy averaged 80-90% throughout the Atlas Hotels. Numbers were off in 2014 due to Operation Protective Edge, but from what he has seen so far, “tourism in Tel Aviv is returning to business as usual in 2015 since most of tourism to Tel Aviv is business-related anyway. If you do not include our hotel in Eilat, more than 50% of our guests are business travelers.”
Most hotel reservations in Tel Aviv are for businesses that are bringing people to the city, whether the guest is a performer or a high-tech manager, he notes. In a regular year, tourism to Tel Aviv that is not business related amounts to less than 20%. Jerusalem, on the other hand, is the main magnet for tourists to Israel, much more than other places in the country. In Jerusalem, guests stay three days on average, while in Tel Aviv it is two days.
About one quarter of the Atlas Hotels’ guests make reservations online and the number is constantly growing. Israeli guests are less likely to book online.
“The new tourism allows small hotels to fill up and the internet makes this happen. Atlas wouldn’t have achieved what it has without the internet,” Kronkop says.
In addition to its own website, where guests can obtain information about the hotels and make reservations, Atlas cooperates with reservation sites, such as Booking.com and Hotels.com, and with search engines, such as TripAdvisor. Atlas also invests in Google Adwords to increase its visibility online.
There is one internet trend, however, that is not helping Atlas and other hotels in Tel Aviv: the popularity of Airbnb. The website, which allows tourists to rent or sublet apartments for short periods directly from owners, tenants, or agents, is flourishing in Tel Aviv. Thousands of apartments are listed on Airbnb in Tel Aviv, some by homeowners who want to make a little extra money while they are on vacation for a week or two once a year and some by investors who have bought a handful of apartments, or more, to operate as short-term holiday rentals year round.
“Airbnb is anti-hotels on two levels,” Kronkop explains. “It does take guests away from us, but that is OK because there always is competition. The real problem is that to open a hotel in Israel, you need to go through lots of bureaucracy to meet extremely tough standards and the places on Airbnb do not go through that at all and do not pay taxes. That is not fair and in New York the authorities are acting against it. That will happen here eventually.”
Of course, there still are trends that are not connected to the internet that effect tourism today, he notes.
“There are some trends, like Tel Aviv being a gay friendly city, that help us a lot. We have a bigger demand in Tel Aviv for the weekend of the annual gay pride parade than for Passover,” Kronkop says.
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