ISRAEL

We Spoke to the Manager of Gaza’s Finest Hotel

ISRAEL
Aug 01, 2014 at 7:05 AM ET

Sitting to the north of Gaza City, right on the gleaming white beach, lies the Al-Mashtal hotel. From the right angle, at the right time of day, this 200-room oasis looks like any other luxury escape. Shimmering palm trees ring an azure blue swimming pool, and a beach view to the north stretches as far as the eye can see. Back in early July, the hotel was priming itself for a decent season, with guests tweeting holiday snaps from the balcony.

But now the Mashtal lies almost empty.

“There are 60 out of the 200 rooms occupied,” says hotel director Farid al-Masry, who spoke to Vocativ on Sunday. “This is approximately 30 percent activity.”

Of the visitors staying in those 60 rooms, most of them are present because of the current war—rather than in spite of it. “Most of the rooms are now occupied by journalists,” al-Masry says. “In total there are 80 to 90 people.”

Rooms in the hotel, completed in 2011 at a cost of nearly $50 million, run at $140 a night, says al-Masry, who has seen the company change management three times during his tenure. The guests who are there are afforded full service, meaning that the costs of running the full hotel hang like an albatross around the neck of the management.

“We are suffering the most because the hotel is huge; its property is huge; there are several large rooms,” al-Masry says. “We cannot not operate the entire hotel.”

The five-star beach resort, perhaps an ambitious venture in such an unstable location, has famously struggled to attract guests, but the situation is especially dire during wartime, despite the media camped out there. Gazans don’t tend to holiday in their own country, al-Masry says, and on top of that, the blockade makes it difficult to attract visitors.

“Most of the guests are journalists, or work for communications companies, international institutions, or are from the Palestinian Media,” al-Masry says. “Usually we have parties in the evening, people come to enjoy or to smoke narghile, to eat or drink, but now no one comes.”

“We are an industry that is influenced negatively by everything, from electricity, diesel, from everything,” he continues. “Right now I don’t know what to expect in the future. Right now we do not see good things in the future. We hope for the best, God willing, and we hope for openness—that they will open the crossings and go back to normal life.”

As if things weren’t bad enough, Israeli bombardments hit Gaza’s only power plant a few days previously, meaning the hotel will now have to rely on generators for any electricity, an expensive measure.

While al-Masry hopes that the blockade can be ended so business at the Al-Mashtal can resume, for now the few hotel residents enjoy views of the sea to the north and east, and from all other angles they get a bird’s-eye view of the gradual destruction of Gaza. Journalist Alberto Hugo Rojas posted the following video from his room at the hotel to his YouTube channel.

“There is tragedy all around us,” says al-Masry, who says the hotel is open for business to all people, even Israelis.

“We want to live a normal life of a human being and be in contact with other people. Not only the tourism industry, but also in other industries we want the situation to be better. Everything is dependent on politics, which is bigger than you and me and everyone.”