Moscow lags high demand
WHEN the Ritz- Carlton Moscow threw open its neo- imperial doors near the Kremlin this week, the cheapest room for the summer tourist season was $ US1036 ($ 1190) with tax. That rate reflects how Moscow hotel openings are lagging behind room demand fuelled by soaring tourism, exports and investor interest in the world’s largest energy producer.
‘‘ I can’t spend more than $ US200 a night, so I ended up a 15- minute bus ride beyond the southern end of a subway line,’’ says Peter Beck, Korea director for International Crisis Group, after arriving from Seoul.
‘‘ When a Russian looked at the address of my hotel, he said, ‘ Don’t go out at night’.’’
Little relief is in sight for business travellers. While the number of visitors to Moscow hit 3.8 million last year, up from 300,000 in 1991, wrecking crews have demolished four Soviet- era hotels in the past five years, wiping out 5000 hotel rooms within a 10- minute walk of Red Square.
Moscow, Europe’s most populous city, has 70,000 hotel rooms, little more than it had a century ago during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, according to Iosif Ordzhonikidze, deputy mayor for international relations.
To attack the shortage, the city Government is reviewing projects that would more than double available hotel rooms to 180,000 by 2010, when Moscow expects five million visitors.
The projects include a $ US700 million, 210- room Four Seasons next to the Kremlin, as well as hotels proposed by InterContinental Hotels Group, Novotel and Sofitel, two units of France’s Accor SA.
‘‘ Every three days, we are going to open a hotel,’’ Ordzhonikidze says, adding that hotel openings will peak at 190 in 2009. ‘‘ Tourists cannot stay in rooms at $ US500 a night.’’
Hotel industry analysts are sceptical Moscow will cut red tape fast enough to spark a hotel boom.
In 2003, city officials promised to double the number of hotel rooms in Moscow to 130,000 by 2005.
Instead, hotel expansion barely kept up with demolition. The Ritz- Carlton, a $ 350 million project, opened three months late.
‘‘ If you compare what they have said and what they have done, there is a big discrepancy,’’ says Stephane Meyrat, an associate director for hospitality at Colliers International. ‘‘ It takes too much time and money to get all the signatures.’’
For now, foreign visitors resort to planning far ahead, keeping their visits short and staying greater distances from the city centre. Close to the Kremlin, hotel bills hit four figures for a single night.
‘‘ The room goes for $ US700 to $ US800, then they get you on the extras — $ US35 a day for wireless internet, $ US40 to $ US50 to deliver a cheeseburger to your room,’’ Abraham Wagner, a Los Angeles- based lawyer, says after staying at the Savoy Hotel Moscow.
The newly renovated, 67- room downtown hotel charges $ US755 for its cheapest room. That drops to $ US682 for the summer season. Room service delivery of a cheeseburger sets a guest back $ US22, according to the hotel.
At the Savoy Hotel in London, under different ownership, the cheapest room rate on the hotel’s web site is $ US339. Wireless internet access is free in the lobby and a room- service cheeseburger costs $ US37.