In early 2020, Tamir Kobrin was on his way back to India from Israel when a “chance meeting” with the Dan Hotels Federmann family, owners of the iconic King David Hotel in Jerusalem, convinced him to return to his native city. For Kobrin, taking up the role of general manager at the hotel was a homecoming after having worked as the front office manager there in 1998.
“It was and still is an opportunity for me to contribute to the Israeli hospitality industry with my vast experience of managing luxury hotels and brands around the world and, moreover, to showcase that you can provide excellence and service in luxury in an Israeli hotel, being the iconic King David,” Kobrin said with pride.
Kobrin, the international hotelier who has worked with brands like Mandarin Oriental, Raffles and Ritz-Carlton, and has opened several luxury properties across Asia, talked to HOTELS about his homecoming to Israel, his plans for King David and the challenges he faces today.
HOTELS: After having worked at King David Hotel as a front desk manager two decades ago, your current post at the King David is a homecoming of sorts. What made you return to Israel after so many years? How much has the hotel changed? What practice or idea were you anxious to implement?
Tamir Kobrin: My return to Israel and the King David was a ‘meant to be’ of sorts. My wife and I were on the way back to India, COVID-19 happened and my chance meeting with the owners, the Federmann family, through our then-CEO Ronen Nissenbaum, made it happen. It was and still is an opportunity for me to contribute to the Israeli hospitality industry with my vast experience of managing luxury hotels and brands around the world and, moreover, showcase that you can provide excellence and service in luxury in an Israeli hotel, being the iconic King David. In Israel it is difficult to provide value for money, luxury experience and excellence, which was my mission when accepting the job, to prove them all wrong.
H: You succeeded Haim Shkedi, the legendary general manager of King David who held the post for almost 26 years. How are you continuing or reimagining his legacy?
TK: Haim was the one who brought me back to Israel in 1998 as the front office manager of the hotel and who let me spread my wings to open the Hotel de Russie in Rome, two years later. I learned much and have, on occasion, when in Israel visiting, turned to him for advice. My role was to sustain the greatness that the hotel had and improve in the areas that needed upgrading and updating. The ability to ensure that the many returning guests continue to come back is how we preserve the wonderful past and ensure that we are building for the future.
H: King David Hotel has been an iconic establishment in Jerusalem since it opened in 1931. What are you doing differently to keep it relevant today amid several new competitors?
TK: Everything. We have embarked on excellent culinary experiences with Chef Roi Antebi, who came with me two-and-half years ago. We are looking at collaborations with luxury brands for our culinary and service excellence. We want to ensure that we offer a multitude of experiences, from reimagining the Kings Garden restaurant, afternoon tea at the Lobby Lounge, the most iconic and dramatic poolside experience with music and cabanas, rebranding of the La Regence to be a new Grill Room and a rooftop Gin bar. These are just a few of the value add-ons that we have envisaged.
H: What steps are you taking to revive the hotel’s revenues? What is your performance forecast going into the next year?
TK: We look at all areas that can generate spending opportunities for the guests, from new culinary offerings, a new spa, a limousine fleet, valet parking, gourmet minibars on order, and musical experiences at the Kings Garden and Lobby Lounge. We are also creating luxury brand collaborations with Thinkers Gin, Beluga, Gin Mare, Molton Brown, Palais de Thés, Tamara, Nespresso and many others.
H: You have held managerial positions in multiple luxury hotels in more than 10 countries. Which broader luxury consumer trends are you applying at King David Hotel? Any emerging industry trends you like and dislike?
TK: Guests are looking for a personal experience, privacy and attention to detail, from the check-in experience with iPads to personal butlers, to encouraging the guests to use the Dan App for quick and personal check-in and check-out experiences. But regardless of what technology we implement, a face-to-face encounter is what guests prefer and the avoidance of human contact is not part of our plans for the hotel.
H: Earlier this year, Israel eased its travel restrictions and reopened borders to visitors from all countries. How has that move helped booking so far? How much have bookings recovered?
TK: Exceptional. We are seeing a quick return to 2019 numbers and a keen interest of guests wanting to come back, be it for emotional travel to the holy land, evangelicals, family celebrations, official delegations and leisure.
H: What has been your biggest learning from COVID that you are applying today?
TK: Building new markets for the hotel, which may have not been in focus in the past, from evangelical businesses and groups to Israeli guests who, during the pandemic, got to know about the hotel and the brand.
H: Where are you finding happiness in work today?
TK: Meeting guests who come back, again and again, praising the team, service and changes made in culinary, service, look and feel of the hotel and atmosphere, saying it feels like Europe or being abroad.
H: What is the biggest professional challenge you face today?
TK: Retaining managers and team members. There is no loyalty to the profession since COVID and people will go elsewhere without considering the effects on their decision down the line. There is limited talent that is willing to work in the hotel industry and that restricts the pool of available good professionals.
H: What’s your hotel pet peeve?
H: Who has been your mentor and what is the best piece of advice you have received?
TK: My wife, Kathrine; that kindness and compassion trumps everything else.
H: Which historical figure would you like to host?
TK: Mahatma Gandhi.