JERUSALEM, July 7 The luxury hotel sector has almost recovered to the level it was at before the global financial crisis, said Hilton Worldwide's global head of luxury and lifestyle brands, which include Conrad and Waldorf Astoria.
John Vanderslice, in Jerusalem to mark the opening of a $150 million Waldorf Astoria, said banks are again showing interest in financing high-end hotels.
"Occupancies are back. Rates are back as well. Almost to that (pre-crisis) level," Vanderslice said of the luxury hotel sector in an interview with Reuters.
He said that after a slow period, "banks are more interested in hotels, especially at the higher end now".
The Middle East was one of the strong markets for Hilton's luxury brands during the economic slowdown, Vanderslice said, benefiting from an increase in airline routes and a shift in travel patterns from North African countries affected by the Arab Spring unrest to the Middle East.
The main investor in the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, which took six years to build, is the family of Paul Reichmann, a top commercial real estate developer from Canada who died last year.
It was built on the site of the Palace hotel, a few hundred yards (meters) from the walled Old City.
One of its notable features is a retractable glass ceiling above the atrium lobby that allows the hotel's Jewish guests to observe the autumn Sukkot holiday when meals are meant to be eaten beneath a open roof where the sky can be seen.
Tourism, which currently accounts for 3 percent of the economy, has dipped during periods of geopolitical instability. Vanderslice said he was not worried about possible lulls in occupancy.
"We're a global company. We see things up and down," he said. "It always comes back and experiences may change a little bit, but at the end of the day it will recover and be very strong."
Hilton has 28 new hotels in the pipeline for Waldorf Astoria and Conrad, and the company plans to unveil a new brand.
"We'll have news for the market before the end of the year on a new brand in the lifestyle space," Vanderslice said, but gave no other details. (editing by Louise Heavens)