The Arthur’s example in safely reopening the capital for tourism
(photo credit: KAREN FELDMAN)
If one equates Amity Island with Jerusalem and killer sharks with the killer novel coronavirus, one can’t help wondering if it is safe to go back into the hotels here.
When the horror film Jaws 2 came out in 1972, its tagline “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” had a chilling effect on theatergoers – and on swimmers.At the end of the original Jaws film, the townspeople living on the fictional Amity Island assume the deadly shark problem is resolved, yet in the sequel, when a new hotel opens and guests return to the resort, people again start dying in the water.If one equates Amity Island with Jerusalem and killer sharks with the killer novel coronavirus, one can’t help wondering if it is safe to go back into the hotels here. We put this and other questions to Ayala Dekel, manager of the Arthur Hotel (named after former UK prime minister Arthur Balfour). Run by someone so personable and highly esteemed in the industry – with more than a quarter century of experience in hotel management, including at the King David and Inbal hotels – it is no surprise that the Arthur is repeatedly ranked the #1 Jerusalem hotel in customer satisfaction on TripAdvisor.How did the Arthur cope with the lockdown mode?Due to COVID-19, we closed the Arthur [and the Harmony and the Bezalel – sister Jerusalem hotels in the Atlas boutique hotel chain, which handles 16 hotels around Israel] in March. It was extremely difficult on us emotionally and physically. It took three days of hard work to prepare the building properly for indefinite closure.Virtually nobody entered the sealed facility for three months – until we got word that we could reopen in accordance with Health Ministry regulations.How hard was it to reopen according to Health Ministry guidelines?We reopened on June 19. In some ways, reopening the hotel was even more challenging than it was to open it in 2013, when everything was brand new. We left everything clean when we locked down in March, but coming here after three months to reopen, we had to go floor by floor sterilizing literally everything in each room, sending everything to the laundry. We removed all the curtains, covers and pillows from all of the rooms and sterilized all of the mattresses. We put in an amazing amount of work. When we reopened, we had only one floor ready out of seven, as I insist on everything being spotless – as clean and shiny as a hospital, people frequently tell me.Coronavirus is still a major health threat. What do you do on an ongoing basis to ensure a warm and friendly yet continually corona-free environment?We do an enormous amount on an ongoing basis to safeguard our guests’ health.Between guests, everything goes to the laundry. We remove and sterilize everything movable (such as the espresso machine and its capsules), sterilize all surfaces in the room with alcohol and then put everything new there. The last person to leave the room is the housekeeping manager (who was formerly the floor manager at the King David Hotel). After she inspects the room and verifies sterilization, no one enters it but the next guest. Everything is spotless. This requires more employees and materials than we used to need, but a safe environment is non-negotiable.We check the temperature of everyone who enters the hotel; nobody with a fever can enter. We continually sterilize entrance door handles, lobby furniture and other public surfaces and provide hand-cleansers in the hotel entrance, at each elevator door and more. All suppliers bring deliveries to a different entrance; they leave their products by the door and go. Moreover, we changed our cancellation policy to make it very easy for anyone who feels at all unwell to cancel without charge.We all wear masks and gloves and remind guests to wear masks in public areas. We also provide masks for guests. The laundry and dishes and all kitchen equipment are sterilized at extremely high germ-killing temperatures; this is documented by the companies that provide the services. In addition, we have fundamentally changed our breakfast and Happy Hour dining area dynamics. Instead of large communal servings of food that each person could access with a common serving utensil, all food is now served on individual plates by gloved staff to eliminate any possibility of germ transfer. We schedule guests’ breakfast hours to avoid crowding and maintain safe social distancing between diners.We leave no stone unturned to provide travelers with a safe haven from the virus and I truly believe that we have succeeded 100%.Many people have justifiably turned into germophobes and have drastically reduced their traveling. Are people feeling that it is safer to venture out now? Have guests returned?It is interesting. My phone started ringing immediately after the corona restrictions were lightened and it hasn’t stopped ringing since: “Are you opening yet? We want to support, we want to come and we want to enjoy.”Before the pandemic hit, our 54 rooms were virtually always fully booked, with about 90% of visitors coming from overseas and 10% Israelis. Now we are nearly fully booked on weekends, with somewhat lighter occupancy during the week, and our guests are practically 100% Israelis.With international travel effectively halted, overseas visitors can’t come – but by the same token – Israelis can’t travel abroad now. So many from around our country choose to come to Jerusalem and explore their capital, and for that our center-city location is ideal. Practically everything is within walking – or even touching – distance, and there is so much here to appreciate and discover.How do you explain your #1 rating on TripAdvisor and extremely high guest review scores?I brought and improved upon all the best things I learned at the grand big hotels. We meet the highest standards. The luxurious Balfouresque-themed décor throughout is appropriate to the city and charming. Every inch of the hotel is sparkling clean, including the stairwells. Even the bicycles that we make available without charge for guest use are gleaming and inviting.But here’s perhaps the key difference. In large facilities, the guest is essentially just a number. Here the atmosphere is warm, friendly and personal with special touches. We know virtually all of the guests by name and make sure their visit is exceptional. Yet despite the almost intimate experience, room prices are much lower than the prices at the larger hotels.Statistically, about 70% of the hotel’s guests are returning guests. People who have experienced staying here evidently tend to be happy to come back. THIS CUSTOMER loyalty was confirmed by random (masked) interviews conducted with some of the guests in the hotel, all of whom told The Jerusalem Post that they had stayed in the Arthur previously.Why did you choose to stay at this hotel today and aren’t you afraid of being infected with the coronavirus here?A guest named Yariv from Pardesiya was kind enough to respond (through his mask).“We’ve been coming here for about five years. We like the environment of the hotel, the people, the intimacy and the treatment we receive. The location is great; we park our car and then walk everywhere – plus the light rail stop is literally a minute away. This is the only hotel we go to in Jerusalem. We know Ayala [Dekel] now; her personality is so disarmingly warm and engaging that it is impossible not to like her. We simply call her and tell her we want a reservation for however many couples – for family celebrations, for friends and when overseas visitors come to Israel. The rooms are great, we feel at home here and the price is reasonable. “By coincidence, we SMSed Ayala for a reservation the very day she decided to reopen the hotel and it is just a pleasure being here. We’re glad to be back.“Yes, corona is a concern, but we take all of the precautions we can, and we know that Ayala and the staff are doing the best that one can humanly do. We see that everything is safe-distanced, the staff and guests are wearing masks. There are spare masks in the room and there is Alcogel everywhere. I feel that it is a safe environment.”MOREOVER, AS an added bonus, because the Arthur is located inland, there is no danger at all to guests from killer sharks.
The writer was a guest at the hotel.
The writer was a guest at the hotel.