Haifa is restoring past glory: The northern Israeli city, which had 55 hotels in the time of the British mandate, is facing a construction boom with as many as 40 hotel projects in the planning, approval or building stages.
Most projects are for boutique hotels, including at the Port Campus, at the Beit Hassan building, at the Egged bus station, on Hassan Shukri Street and in the Hadar neighborhood.
Another bid has been issued for the construction of a 200-room hotel at the Marcus Camp area on Yefe Nof Street.
An average 85% occupancy rate is prompting the entrepreneurs and authorities to develop the hotel industry at a record pace. After a 7% increase in tourism over the past year, the municipality seeks to turn Haifa into northern Israel's tourist center, from which travelers will embark on day trips to Akko, Nazareth, Tiberias and the Galilee.
About a year ago, the Tourism Ministry extended the city's status as Development Area A, promising investors a 24% grant for the establishment of hotels – including renovation – and tourist attractions.
Haifa currently has 1,500 hotel rooms. About 70% of its tourism is incoming tourism, and 50% of tourists are businesspeople. Some 1,000 conferences were held in the city in 2011, in addition to 520 one-day meetings. Some were held in hotels and some at the large congress center at the entrance to the city.
"We have also founded a municipal guesthouse company offering 150 rooms," says Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, "and we import festivals and create our own events."
The most ambitious plan is opening the port to the city, like in Barcelona, which the municipality believes will help Haifa compete against the Mediterranean Basin's splendid rivieras.
The plans include the development of a park on the border of the Kishon River. The refineries' cooling towers will be turned into a visitor center, and bridges will lead from the port to the city. Massive renovations are underway in Haifa's lower town, in the Turkish market and in Paris Square, which will become the city's business center.
The plan also includes the Bat Galim neighborhood, where a boutique hotel will be built in the old casino building which was sold to entrepreneur Gil Dankner.
The building was established in 1935 – on the beach and partly inside the sea – and planned by Alfred Goldenberg, who also planned the refineries. It served as the neighborhood's communal center and to a public beach and swimming pool opened nearby. Upon the State's establishment, the property was rented to the Lux family, which operated a cinema and banquet hall in it.
The building was closed in the 1980s. Its reconstruction is being carried out by architect Simcha Ofek, and it will be integrated into the city's promenade.