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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Pete Hotel Market Gets 4th Major Player

ST. PETERSBURG — Leaving his tuxedo behind in Moscow and donning a typical tourist outfit, complete with a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, Nikita Mikhalkov, the Academy Award-winning director of "Burnt by the Sun," headed up to St. Petersburg early last week.

But unlike his previous visits to the city, this time Mikhalkov is not staying at the Grand Hotel Europe — instead he is the ceremonial first guest at the newest entry into the city's hotel market, the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel at 49 Nevsky Prospekt.

After more than two years of construction, the hotel finally opened its doors to guests July 23, and the opening is spurring Petersburg hoteliers to take a more serious approach to drawing tourists to Russia's northern capital.

Mikhalkov entered his name in the yet-untouched guest book, received his keys from the beaming receptionist and addressed the assembled crowd of reporters.

"As the president of the Russian Fund for Culture, I am very happy to see this building restored, and I am honored to be its first guest," he said, referring to the site's history.

The building, which dates back to 1765, was converted into a hotel in 1879. The writer Anton Chekhov stayed there during his first visit to St. Petersburg.

During the late Soviet period, the first floor was occupied by the cafe Saigon, a mecca for the city's dissidents and rock 'n' rollers.

Mikhalkov joked that he doesn't know where he'll stay the next time he comes to St. Petersburg."I propose a tender [between the hotels]," he jested.

In fact, Mikhalkov doesn't really have much of a choice, as St. Petersburg's tourist industry suffers from a lack of hotel space in all classes, including luxury. The Radisson SAS Royal joins the Astoria Hotel, the Grand Hotel Europe and Sheraton Nevskij Palace in the high-end category.

Although the Radisson's rating was not yet determined, Sandra Dimitrovich, Radisson's district public relations manager for the Baltic states and Russia, said the hotel's management was "shooting for five stars." A certification commission was examining the facilities, she said.

Besides its prime location, the hotel features 164 rooms with a standard price of $290 per night, 17 luxury suites, five conference rooms, two private dining rooms, a cafe-bar, a restaurant and a health club. According to Dimitrovich, 7,000 bookings have already been registered for the remainder of 2001.

While Radisson SAS will oversee the management of the hotel, it is owned by the Russian company Hotel Corp. and was built at a cost of $30 million.

It is the city's first privately financed hotel project, with The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development providing half of the funds and the remainder coming from the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund and Moscow-America, a Russian company.

This is the first such management project in Russia for Radisson SAS, a Belgium-based corporation that runs 107 hotels worldwide.

There are two other hotels bearing the Radisson name in Russia, but the Slavjanskaya in Moscow is managed by the Radisson Corp., which is a separate entity from Radisson SAS, and the Zhemchuzhina in Sochi is connected with Radisson SAS through a franchising agreement.

The Radisson will boost the city's current total to 25,536 rooms, 2,518 of which are in 5-star hotels. But officials at Radisson plan to bring more than just new rooms to the city's tourism industry.

Despite a 20 percent increase in tourism this year, bringing the total number of visitors to about 3 million, Erich B?nziger, the Radisson's general manager, said the city hasn't reached its potential.

"That's far too few. This city has the potential to draw 10 million to 15 million tourists per year," B?nziger said in an interview last week. "It is the task of the hotels, together with the city, the airlines and the tourist agencies, to market the destination and make it easy for people to come to St. Petersburg."

B?nziger, who arrived in April after managing Radisson SAS' operation in Beijing, said the city's four high-end hotels have begun meetings with the city administration to find ways to increase the international promotion of the city as a tourist destination.

"In this city, there is no tourism bureau promoting it abroad, and that's really been missing. … There are a lot of things that are interlinked in promoting a destination," he said.

"If I, as a hotel [manager], advertise in America or Africa or Europe, for example, there is a limited amount I can do as a single hotel. But if we have all the hotels, the city administration itself, the airlines and the authorities working together, we'll be off to a great start," B?nziger added.

The group has already drawn up a set of preliminary proposals and has scheduled another meeting for next month.

One item already discussed is related to a yet-to-be-approved plan by the city to issue three-day visas to tourists at Pulkovo Airport.

"The hotels believe that three days is too short. We would like, as a friendly suggestion [from a tourist-friendly or travel-friendly perspective], to have a five-day visa, the reason being that if you arrive on the first day, then you have one day to stay and then the next day you have to fly out," B?nziger said.

"One full day to spend in St. Petersburg is not enough. St. Petersburg has so much more to offer — so many palaces, museums, ballets and theaters."