Despite turmoil, Russias' lodging options increase

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MOSCOW -- "This is where we're going to have the steakhouse; it will be the only one of its kind in Moscow," said Jerone Gerrese, general manager of the Moscow Marriott Royal, a 234-room, five-star hotel scheduled to open 100 rooms in November.

The steakhouse, along with the addition of a deluxe property in a city already awash in $300-a-night rooms, seemed incongruous with the current economic crisis that has overtaken Russia.

Nevertheless, chains like Marriott are building for the future, Gerrese explained, for the time when they are confident that the capital will resume its reign as a leading recipient of global investment.

Gerrese and other businesspeople here pointed out that although many foreign companies are leaving, a number have decided to take advantage of the "buyer's market" and actually expand their investments.

These corporate risk takers, as well as leisure travelers who are not intimidated by reports of Russia's financial demise, will have some new lodging options as the result of a flurry of construction and renovations.

The Marriott Royal, for instance, will give the Kempinski, a leader in occupancy rates here, stiff competition in the highest end of the market, Gerrese claimed.

What will make it distinct from the Marriott Grand, a deluxe hotel that opened last September, 1997.

The Royal will feature butler service on every floor. The property, located on the pedestrian street of Stoleshnikov, is also much closer than the Grand to Red Square, a few minutes' walk versus a half-hour.

A site inspection revealed restored 18th century exteriors that blended well with the historic neighborhood and an airy atrium; rooms were not yet completed.

The fitness center and sauna will have the benefit of a European beauty center as well as a spacious indoor swimming pool.

Designer shops are planned for the lobby.

A cafe in front of the hotel will boast one of Moscow's rare outdoor sidewalk eateries.

Room rates at the Marriott Royal start at $250 per person, per night, double, through December. Rates for 1999 have not been announced.

The Marriott Royal can be reached at (800) 831-1000.

Another impressive deluxe hotel is the 240-room Swiss Diamond, which opened this month on the site of the former Belgrade Hotel.

The hotel, a $60 million reconstruction of the Belgrade, is the first property managed by Swiss Diamond Hotels & Resorts, based in Lugano, Switzerland.

The general manager is Heinz Chytil, a native of Austria who opened the first western-managed property in the Caucuses 10 years ago. He has extensive experience at prop-

erties in countries such as Sudan and South Africa.

During a visit to the hotel, the Russian staff appeared well trained and displayed hospitality that can be lacking at properties opened during the Communist era.

The property still had appealing public spaces, such as a disco, a well-equipped workout room and a 23rd-floor panorama restaurant.

Guests can avail themselves of two large Jacuzzis, but there is no swimming pool.

Room rates are $200, double, through March 12, after which they will start at $325, double.

The Swiss Diamond is represented in the U.S. by SRS.

One of Moscow's best-kept secrets this year, at least for the American market, was the debut of the city's first western-managed boutique hotel, the 30-room Katerina.

The property, managed and owned by a Swedish concern, opened in February.

The hotel's neighborhood is pleasantly residential, and guests can reach the city center by metro in 10 minutes.

Rooms, with modern business amenities, are very much in the Swedish modern style. The bathrooms have showers but no tubs.

Rates start at $235, double.

The Katerina's local phone number is (011) 7-095 794-4343, fax (011) 7-095 797-4342, e-mail: [email protected].

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