Walking into the American Colony Hotel is like stepping into a green sanctuary in the middle of Jerusalem. The courtyards are immaculately tended and the gardens offer a calm oasis for people to meet and relax. I’ve not had the pleasure of staying here but a cocktail in the garden, or down in the cellar bar was a treat indeed (in pre-covid times).
Perhaps this is because the hotel strives to create an ‘air of neutrality’ which ‘gives it a feeling that you are coming into an area that isn’t Israel or Palestine’. This was what Jeremy, a senior manager at the hotel told me, when I spoke to him.
If you read the previous blog about the history of the hotel, then you’ll know that it’s been around for over 100 years. Jeremy has worked there for 39 years and he says that ‘no-one leaves’. There is something special about the hotel and the sense that the staff are a big family must stem largely from their colony roots.
Jeremy says that ‘guests also feel that’ when they stay, and within a few minutes of arrival the staff know their names. This has been the foundation of excellent customer service and many repeat customers over the years.
The families that lived in the close-knit community that founded the hotel are still represented on the board today. It has board members in the US, UK and Sweden and the current management company is Swiss. Despite being geographically scattered, Jeremy says that the board are deeply involved in all decisions that affect the employees.
This has been tested to the hilt over the past few months. Before corona virus hit, the hotel was employing 135 people. It was with great sadness that the doors were closed on 19th March, and it remains uncertain when they will be able to re-open.
It is clear that the board feels a heavy responsibility to their workforce. One of the first jobs on closing the hotel was for the food in the freezers to be distributed to the staff and their families.
There are currently regular meetings about the viability of re-opening. It is Jeremy’s job to make the books balance however, and the overheads involved in opening the hotel currently outweigh the potential visitors they could expect. Opening in any capacity would require a receptionist, cleaners, security, kitchen staff, waiters and lifeguards for the pool.
Jeremy sums it up by saying ‘we can’t change our spots too much’. By this he means that they won’t compromise on the service that guests expect by opening with limited facilities available or many rooms vacant.
Jeremy tells me that only 5% of the usual occupancy comes from domestic tourists. It’s not a kosher hotel and instead targets itself very much at the international traveller. For now, there is no sense that tourism can recover this year although they remain hopeful.
So it is with sadness that the doors will remain closed until at least the end of September. Like many of us living in the local area, I hope we will see the hotel back up and thriving before the year is out. It is a local institution, and I agree with Jeremy’s conclusion that it is more than a hotel, it is ‘a necessary part of the fabric of Jerusalem’.
With thanks to Jeremy at the American Colony Hotel for sharing his insights. Keep an eye on the hotel’s website for details of re-opening: https://www.americancolony.com