If you’re planning a trip to Jerusalem and take a look at TripAdvisor to find the city’s top-rated hotel, the answer may surprise you. It’s not the Inbal, King David, American Colony, David Citadel or Mamilla, although all of them are ranked in the top ten. Nope, it’s the recently opened Arthur Hotel.
Its sister hotel, the Harmony, is rated No. 2.
The Arthur is somewhat of an unexpected front-runner given its heart-of-downtown location, far from the capital’s desirable hotel row overlooking the ancient walls of the Old City, as well as its relatively cheaper price.
According to TripAdvisor, a Newton, Massachusetts company, the ranking of hotels on the user-based website is based on TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index, a proprietary algorithm that dynamically ranks hospitality businesses worldwide based on the popularity of a given business, as measured by the quality, quantity, and recency of content written about the business on TripAdvisor.
In other words, being ranked #1 is “is not something that a hotel can influence,” said Hayley Coleman, a spokesperson for TripAdvisor.
What the management of the hotel has tried to do, however, with its location smack in the middle of the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, is to carefully design the hotel to harken back to the time of the British Mandate. Decorated with period photographs, Turkish rugs and antique furnishings that were both commissioned and gathered from local markets; many rooms have wrought-iron balconies that are reminiscent of the iconic photograph of Theodor Herzl seen leaning over the balcony of his Basel room during the Fifth Zionist Congress. There’s a feeling of old Jerusalem at the hotel, from the Armenian plates hung in the bathrooms to the tiled floors, writing tables and leather chairs set in each of the rooms.
Its fellow Jerusalem hotel, the Harmony, TripAdvisor’s #2 in the city, is located nearby in the historic environs of Nachalat Shiva, one of Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhoods, and is decorated in modern, pristine whites with touches of color.
Both hotels are situated in new buildings, built by local contractors before they were purchased and renovated by the hotel owners. (The Harmony is about to undergo a significant renovation, moving the lobby and dining room into the first floor, which was initially rented to local shops, and adding another 11 rooms to the hotel.)
The Atlas Hotel chain, to which the Arthur and the Harmony belong, currently numbers 11 hotels in Israel, including six in Tel Aviv (the Market House in Jaffa is scheduled to open in 2014), Sadot at the airport, the Hotel Bay Club in Haifa and Nova Like Hotel in Eilat. But the chain’s top two hotels remain its Jerusalem accommodations, and that’s the way manager Ayala Dekel plans on keeping it.
“We’re the response to the grand hotels in terms of location and service,” said Dekel, a Jerusalemite who managed the Harmony when it first opened in 2006 and now runs both hotels. “If you spend less on your hotel, then you can spend more on the other stuff, the restaurants and tours. It’s $250 compared to $700.”
Not every top-tier Jerusalem hotel costs as much as $700 a night — $500 is the average price for Mamilla, King David and the David Citadel, while rooms at the Inbal are generally in the $350 range; it depends on the season. At the Arthur, which opened in March 2013, the price ranges from $250 to $350 in high season. But what has impressed TripAdvisor reviewers is the design, comfort and service offered at the still-new hotel, and those are the hallmarks of the chain, said Dekel.
“We give the same amenities, if not the facilities, as the grand hotels,” she said, referring to the lush breakfast buffets, high thread-count sheets and cushy towels typical of the chain’s hotels, which are too small to include facilities like a gym or pool.
With 54 rooms at the Arthur, and 50 at the Harmony, the focus has been on design, warm, personal service and impeccable cleanliness, said Dekel.
“We thought of all the finishing touches,” said Dekel, “from the Jordanian almond candies at the front desk,” to the copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” cookbook set atop the pile of coffee table books in the small but comfortable lobby.
Dekel, a veteran of Jerusalem’s hotel industry, having worked at the King David and Inbal, is a stickler for other touches as well, from her upkeep of scrupulously clean rooms to consistently hiring warm, personally involved staff members, even if they lack professional hotel experience.
“The secret is that I tweeze them out,” she said, “I’m very picky.”
“When you have only 54 rooms, your connection to the guests is very tight,” she said. “One of my waiters saw a guest coming down to breakfast this morning and went to order him a fried egg, because he knows that’s what he likes.”
Tthere’s also a sumptuous breakfast buffet with a choice selection of cheeses, fresh salads and pickled fish, breads, jams and the aforementioned eggs.
There have been some bumps along the way, but not many. Located on Dorot Rishonim Street, a side street almost parallel to Ben Yehuda (the hotel is behind the Rimon Cafe), the Arthur isn’t always easy to find, and there’s no parking, not even for a taxi unloading guests. So Dekel came up with the plan of having guests dropped off at a nearby street, or having them park their cars at the Harmony and then driving them over to the Arthur in a fitted-out golf cart.
“It reminds them of being in Thailand,” she said.
She also thrives on coming up with special Arthur touches like a tea tray filled with glasses of mint tea, just as it’s served in the market, or a massive samovar in the breakfast room. And while only breakfast is served at the Arthur, there is a late afternoon snack time, as in all Atlas Hotels, with sandwiches, drinks and snacks served every afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m.
For now, the Arthur is in a quieter period, having been full during the late December holiday season. As for Dekel, she’s taking advantage of the quiet period by organizing a full cleaning in all the rooms, beating rugs, wiping out corners, chasing down every dust particle.
“We’re a great solution,” said Dekel, “at half the price.”