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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gerrese Gives Marriott Royal Finishing Touch

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In pin stripes and a gracious smile befitting a general manager of a five-star hotel, Jeroen Gerrese waits by the glass doors to bid adieu to a fleet of luxury cars whisking away the foreign heads of a big firm moving into town.

He spends more time in the lobby than at his desk.

"Why? Because thatТs where it happens. ThatТs where you see people coming in, people are departing. ItТs acknowledgement, itТs a handshake, itТs hello," Gerrese said.

"You create the impression that youТre always there."

With occupancy one room shy of 100 percent on a recent weekday, the Marriott Royal is sitting pretty atop MoscowТs luxury hotel market.

"The Royal came on the market five months after the crisis, and it is still a success, which I think is quite impressive," said Pyotr Medvedev, part of the hospitality group at Arthur Andersen. Back then, "everyone was quite skeptical, saying: СWhy do you need a five-star hotel?Т"

The deadline for the opening was pushed back 100 days and in January 1999, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov cut the red ribbon for what is today still the newest high-end hotel in the city. Owned by city-backed developers Mospromstroi and managed by U.S. company Interstate Hotel Corp., the Royal is located on Ulitsa Petrovka behind the Bolshoi Theater and, Gerrese said proudly, is the only hotel in the city with butler service.

"I wish everybody else would do butlers, because then I could come up with something else. You always have to differentiate if youТre on top."

The Royal benefits by being part of a threesome of Marriott franchises in the city, each priced differently depending on its level of amenities and all owned by Mospromstroi and managed by Interstate. The Renaissance Hotel is owned and managed by Marriott International.

When occupancy among international hotels in Moscow sank to 42 percent in the first seven months of 1999, down from 64 percent over that period in 1998, and prices dropped dramatically, Marriott, with three hotels on the market, "could be a bit more flexible in terms of rates," Medvedev said.

The Royal competes almost head-to-head with the slightly more expensive Baltschug Kempinski, voted in 1998 and 1999 the best five-star hotel by city government.

Alexei Afanasyev, rooms division manager at the Baltschug, said Royal was its equal in service, but that the Marriott lacked a historical feel.

"The Royal is a very nice product, but not typical for Marriott," Afanasyev said.

Traditionally, he said, the Marriott chain is "not in a luxury niche, but more nice four-star hotel."

Gerrese thought of becoming a hotelier only after spending two of the most boring years of his life in law school in his native Holland, he said. Working one summer with an uncle who was involved in food service, he said: "Something happened. I liked what I saw."

He went on to earn a bachelorТs degree in the Netherlands in hotel management and then a masterТs degree at Cornell University in New York. But he was not destined for the lobby just yet. He wanted to see the world, and since KLM Royal Dutch Airlines "only wanted 5-foot Dutch females." Gerrese headed for the open seas, working on a cruise ship for three years and sailing around the world twice.

While on board he met an employee of Omni Hotels, which led to a job as director of restaurants in a Minneapolis hotel. After a few assignments, Gerrese landed his first general manager position in a new 770-room hotel on 49th and Broadway in New York City in 1989.

His next big leap was to the prestigious Waldorf Towers, where U.S. President Bill Clinton would tell Gerrese on his weekly visits, "Just call me Bill." Gerrese concedes he never went that far with the president.

At this point, he pulls out a card from his wallet with the RoyalТs mission statement, which he himself coined: "We do the difficult immediately and the impossible will take a few seconds more."

The Royal has so far been among only a handful competing for the cityТs more wealthy, mostly business, visitors. But the Hilton is moving in with two hotels that will together add some 530 rooms. The Hilton Bolshoi, situated in between the Metropol and Royal, plans to be up and running by 2001.

"It can create some competition for the Royal and Kempinski. The Hilton is very aggressive in management," said Medvedev of Arthur Andersen. "But the Royal, for example, will have more than two years lead time."

Jones Lang LaSalle managing director Michael Lange said the five-star sector is not over-saturated and there is definitely room at the top for the Hiltons.

"Occupancy rates in the hotel sector for at least a year after the crisis werenТt as attractive. Yet to our best understanding, an increase has been seen over the last eight to 10 months," Lange said.

While the boom levels of the mid-Т90s are not being revisited, the upper-tier hotel business is experiencing something of a renaissance. Occupancy rates in June and October for the cityТs top nine hotels were about 63 percent and 61 percent, respectively, according to Arthur Andersen. Comparatively, the average occupancy rate for 1999 was 45 percent for the top nine.

"ItТs not like we had in Т94, Т95, Т96," Medvedev said. "But itТs not as stagnated as it was last year."

Gerrese said that mid-week occupancy is beginning to draw good comparison with other cities in Europe.

Though he is following his family Ч an American wife and two young boys Ч and heading to a different job in California, Gerrese said heТll miss the unpredictable ups and downs of the Moscow scene.

"I guess the last two and a half years, the uncertainties Е I think here more than any other time in my career, this was a true test."