A stroll through Vilnius these days might lead one to think that the capital of Lithuania is little more than one huge construction site. But the roadwork on Gedimino Prospect and ubiquitous scaffolding on houses is being accompanied by an equally frantic renovation of the city's hotels, where workers are putting in extra hours to get ready for the summer travel season.
More and more visitors and business people are coming to Lithuania, and they all need a place for the night. Hotels accordingly want to be well prepared for their rising number of guests.
On May 15, two freshly renovated luxury hotels in Vilnius open their doors to visitors—the Crowne Plaza with 108 rooms and the hotel Lietuva with 291 rooms.
The hotel Lietuva belongs to the Reval Hotel Group, which has an additional four hotels in Tallinn and two hotels in Riga. "Now we want to enter the Lithuanian market. The renovation of Lietuva was the first step," said Birute Leimontaite, sales and marketing manager of Lietuva.
The hotel, situated on the right bank of the Neris River, opened its doors for the first time in 1982. The 22-story building was closed to prepare for the renovation project on Oct. 1, 2001, while reconstruction itself started in June of last year.
Together with the real estate development company Linstow International, the Reval Hotel Group invested 25 million euros in the renovation of the hotel; the total cost of the hotel project is 36 million euros.
The Reval Group is focusing on businesspeople as guests for the 24,000-square-meter the hotel. According to Leimontaite, Lietuva has the biggest conference hall in Vilnius with room for 1,200 people.
"Other attractions of the hotel are the Skybar on in the 22nd floor, the biggest casino in the Baltics, and international cuisine prepared by a Swedish chef," she said.
Luxury, of course, has its price - a standard room for two will cost 130 euros, while true high-rollers can rent the presidential suite for 350 euros per night.
Equally glitzy is the Crowne Plaza, which boasts 108 rooms: 44 twin rooms, 61 suites and three apartments. One night in the standard room will cost 580 litas (168 euros), while apartments will set you back 1,000 litas per night.
The hotel was built in 1973 and closed for reconstruction in 2001. Now, after one year of work the 17-floor building near Vingis Park is completely renovated.
Special attractions for visitors include the panorama bar on the 16th floor with room for 80 persons or the nonstop bar on the ground floor. Highlights for guests in the Crowne Plaza also include the health club, whith Turkish and Finnish saunas, whirlpool, swimming pool and exercise room.
Spring 2003 has seen an explosion in hotel capacity in Vilnius. So far this year, 863 rooms with places for 1,687 people have been added to the city's capacity.
Nonetheless, according to Sonata Griskiene from the Vilnius municipality's department of economics and tourism, the recent additions are not enough.
"We have very many four-star hotels in Vilnius, but they are all very expensive. What we need are cheaper hotels with two stars for younger people and travelers with less money," she said.
The demand for lower-budget hotels has been proven by the opening of establishments like Europa City Vilnius, which started serving guests on April 1. The economy class hotel is completely booked up, mostly by businesspeople from Russia, Lithuania and the United Kingdom.
The 124 renovated rooms all offer comforts such as television, Internet, telephone and minibar, while rates are meant to go easier on the wallet -one night in the centrally located hotel costs 276 litas - 328 litas.
Ecotel, another economy guest house, also hopes to compete for the emerging midrange market. In the hotel's first week of business, most of the 168 rooms have been occupied, and Tomas Juknevicius, Ecotel's public relations director is positive that the 7 million litas investors have pumped into the project will be worth it.
In the eight months from September until May absolutely everything in the hotel was renovated. Electricity and elevators were added, and all the rooms have new furniture, lamps and bathrooms. Another addition is the new 90-square-meter conference hall with space for 80 people.
"We're proud of all what we've done," Juknevicius said.
Ecotel's rates range from 169 litas to 209 litas, with weekend guests paying slightly less.
"At the moment there are lots of tourists mostly from Poland and Scandinavia staying at our hotel. For the next months we have reservations from all over the world. People coming from Brazil, Argentina and even Japan will stay at Ecotel," Juknevicius said.