HOTELS - Checking in to the Baltics

  • 2008-04-24
  • By Monika Tomsevica

Monument: The Reval Hotel, one of the most impressive in Riga, braces the skyline like a monolith.

RIGA - Walk into a hotel in any large city in the Baltics, and you will find many things that were not there five years ago; smiling desk clerks, in-house casinos, and most noticeable of all, lots of guests.
Hoteliers cite cheap airline services and business opportunities as the driving factor in the boom.
Janis Klavins of Hotel Bergs in Riga foresees that there will be yet more people coming to the region in future. 
"People are beginning to see this area as more than just a business destination or a place to have a bachelor party, but a place of real culture," he said.

Hotels also look and feel more comfortable.
"I've traveled in this region for about 10 years and the thing I notice is that they're finally getting rid of that drab Soviet style, and adding color to the place. That and people smile at you when you walk in, they definitely didn't do that before. Service is definitely better," said Greg Mason, a businessman from London,
It hasn't hurt that the region can now host big international conferences. The NATO Summit held in Riga in 2006 also helped raise awareness. After the body guards and bomb sniffing dogs were gone people could look around and see that Riga was actually a pretty nice town.

"New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani stayed with us, as well as a number of high profile guests,"   Klavins said.
The Baltics are becoming a destination for guests all year round, with predominantly business guests from September-April and more tourists from April-August.
But it's not good news for everybody. Competition is getting fierce.  Independent hotels, especially in the city centers are feeling pressure from smaller hotels.
"(We get) less people now than five years ago, because people are looking for cheaper hotel,"  a spokesperson for Hotel De Rome said.
Still the big hotels are doing well. Janis Maceicuks of Reval Hotel Latvija, said he was not worried about competition.

"Service is important to our guests and we can offer wireless Internet and the biggest conference rooms in the Baltics. We also had the facilities for Riga Fashion Week, which drew guests from all over the world."
He added that the hotel was currently 70 percent full without any events drawing in extra persons.
In Lithuania, the situation is similar to the other Baltic states, with tourism business dominating the summer months.

"From May to September Palanga is at its busiest, especially since a direct flight began to operate between Norway and Palanga. More Norwegian travelers are staying here and for the summer we have some families who have booked for up to two weeks. Others have booked in for a month," said Dovile Knabikiene from the Palanga Hotel.

New flights are not the only good thing to happen to the Baltic hotel industry in recent years, as an increase in shipping has also served as a boon.
Foreign investors have started directing the shipping industry and cruise ships into the Baltics, citing cheap services and cheap docking fees as their main reasons.
This not only benefits the shipping industry, but locals as well.

 "The growth in overnights (from the cruise industry) has also meant that we have increased our number of full time employees by four percent," Roy Kappenberger, director of Radisson Hotels in the Baltics announced.
This is good news for the hotel business, especially those in the city centers.
"A year ago we added on to our existing building an extra 250 rooms, so I would say business is definitely growing," Maceicuks of Reval Hotel explains.

Hoteliers say that a large portion of their revenue isn't generated by accommodations, but by their extra amenities.
 Klavins explains that it isn't just foreigners who generate profit, but locals eating at the restaurants, going to the casinos, or even rooms rented out for government functions.
  "Revenue isn't just generated by guests, we also rent out our conference rooms for ministry gatherings and conferences," he said.