After almost 20 years of discussions, the final permits have finally been obtained for the construction of the Four Seasons hotel in Israel's capital.
According to Ilanit Melchior, tourism director of the Jerusalem Development Authority, "The procedures for the approval of the hotel began during Uzi Baram's term as tourism minister (in the mid 1990s). Now, all the permits have finally been received after we told the entrepreneur, who had asked for more floors and additional apartments for sale, 'Either you accept our plan or give back the land.'
"Three years ago, together with the Jerusalem Municipality, we launched a 'green' channel for hotel construction in order to prevent such cases from repeating themselves."
Melchior says the city currently has about 4,000 hotel rooms, and as many as 2,000 rooms are expected to be added within six years, as part of local and international brands.
The luxury W brand, which is currently building a hotel in Jaffa, will arrive in Jerusalem as well with a 250-room hotel planned by world renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, whose work includes the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.
Other international hotel chains arriving in Jerusalem include Marriott, Ramada and Accor, which will run two hotels under the Ibis brand that are already under construction. Talks are also been held with the Radisson chain.
Foreign chains are interested in maintaining their presence in the Israeli capital – mainly through management, without investing money in construction – due to the serious shortage of rooms in the city and the rise in incoming tourism, despite the recent crisis following the recent Gaza conflict.
This is also the reason why some of the new hotels which are about to open belong to chains which had been active in Israel in the past, but left due to the security situation. Accor operated a number of hotels across the country, Marriott had a hotel in Nazareth, and Radisson used to be the biggest foreign chain in Israel before leaving the country.
The Jerusalem Development Authority is also launching an initiative of urban accommodation units.
"There are quite a few residents in the city who have large apartments and whose children have left home," explains Melchior. "We are suggesting that they rent rooms out to tourists. In order to advance the issue, they will be exempted from all kinds of permits, like the need for a kitchenette or parking for each guest. This will allow tourists to integrate with the local residents and enjoy a cheaper vacation in Israel."
The Authority recently launched the iTravel Jerusalem project, which offers tourists a special card with reductions and benefits in the city, in a bid to turn them into ambassadors of Jerusalem upon their return home.
"We will try to make their visit as enjoyable as possible, but we definitely welcome criticism if they have any," says Melchior.