Major international hotel chains are coming to Siberia in a surge that will revolutionise travel options for business people and tourists.
The recent past has seen the opening of a DoubleTree by Hilton in Novosibirsk and also a Courtyard by Marriott in Irkutsk, on the doorstep of Lake Baikal.
In both cases, these were the first hotels from these major Western brands in Siberia. Analysts expect many more to follow in the coming decade raising the standard of service and quality of accommodation across all six time zones from the Urals to the Pacific.
In March 2012, the US chain Marriott also announced their second Siberian hotel, a new 20 storey five star with 216 rooms to open in the historic centre of Krasnoyarsk in late 2014.
A warm welcome from the Chef of the Marriott Courtyard Irkutsk. Picture: The Marriott Group
Likewise, in January 2012, Best Western Plus opened its Spasskaya Hotel in the west of the region in the Russian oil capital of Tyumen, a first in Siberia for 'the world's biggest hotel family'.
In a sign that more major international grade hotels are on the way to Siberia - which until now has lagged behind major investment hospitality developments seen in other Russian regions as well as the two main cities of Moscow and St Petersburg - Best Western indicated that it is actively seeking a larger footprint in the east of the country.
'We see many excellent opportunities for us to develop the brand further throughout the entire region', said Suzi Yoder, Best Western's Vice President of International Operations. 'We know that all of the international chains are talking about expansion'.
Lobby and room interiors of Marriott Irkutsk and, below, a computer-modelled picture of Marriott Krasnoyarsk, due to be opened by the end of 2014. Pictures: The Marriott Group
Best Western has two other hotels in Russia, both around Moscow, but the Tyumen opening, with 84 rooms, is expected to be followed by others in the east of the country.
'We are very excited to not only be the first Best Western hotel in Siberia but also to have qualified for the Best Western Plus descriptor', said owners' representative Vitaly Samoilik.
The aim is to attract 'both international and Russian guests to our door. We are primarily a business hotel, but with ample facilities for leisure guests', he stressed. Marriott were drawn by Irkutsk as a key industrial centre for energy, but also the tourist potential.
'The hotel is perfectly situated to explore the sights of Eastern Siberia. Irkutsk, located along the Trans-Siberian Railway, is also 70km in distance from the UNESCO world heritage site of Lake Baikal - the world's largest fresh water lake', say the hoteliers.
'We are excited to enter new destinations like Siberia and see great potential for further expansion of our Courtyard by Marriott brand here', stressed Amy McPherson, president and managing director for Marriott International in Europe.
'This is also the first branded hotel in Irkutsk, an important energy hub of Europe.'
Irkutsk, Marriott Courtyard's business room and restaurant. Pictures: The Marriott Group
The planned Krasnoyarsk Marriott - described as 'a great new addition to our portfolio' - acknowledges the city as a key business hub, and will offer first class facilities for meetings, conferences and events.
The hotel will have a large ballroom, five meeting rooms, four restaurants and a health and leisure club with an indoor pool. The chain is geared to a significant development in Russia, seeing 'tremendous opportunity to expand our brands here'.
As suggested by Marriott, a key group to benefit from the Siberian hotel revolution will be rail travellers across the continent who want to take a break and explore one or more of the cities on the way.
Irkutsk is already the most popular stopover for travellers on the world's longest rail journey, is seen as a likely location for further new Western hotel chain developments, and more announcements are expected.
Omsk, another key business hub with potential for tourist growth, already has a highly successful Ibis Hotel, converted from the Soviet-era Sibir Hotel, and operated by leading mid-market chain Accor.
Reports have also suggested Omsk could get a Marriott and two Hilton hotels in the coming years.
The Rezidor Hotel Group, well established on the Russian market, also announced in July 2011 the development of a new Park Inn for Russia in Novosibirsk. This brand already operates in Yekaterinburg and Moscow.
Further east, Hyatt International will operate two hotels in Vladivostok, due to be ready for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in September 2012, though there have been delays and they maybe only partially opened on time.
For the future, however, these prestigious hotels bode well for business visitors and better-off tourists on the Trans-Siberian rail journey.
The new hotels are the 217-room Hyatt Regency Vladivostok, Golden Horn and the 218-room Hyatt Vladivostok, Burny.
The boom in foreign branded hotels provides a challenge to indigenous hotels, among which there are some fine hotels, and is likely to lead to overall improvement in standards, benefiting the paying customer, say industry insiders.
'Russian competitors in these cities are already rising to the challenge and improving their hotels in Siberia,' said one.
When the 188-room Doubletree by Hilton opened in Novosibirsk in October 2010, it represented 'the most modern, service-oriented hotel in the city', according to Rob Palleschi, global head of the brand.
Spa centre at Novosibirsk Double Tree Hilton. Picture: Double Tree Hilton
Like other chains coming to Siberia, it emphasises its 'luxurious' accommodation, and world-standard facilities with 'a long list of guest amenities, such as fully stocked mini-bars, flat-screen plasma TVs with a selection of popular satellite TV channels from around the world; generous work desks; built-in safes; fine bath and body products; in-room tea and coffee-making facilities; and the brand's signature Sweet Dreams by Doubletree sleep experience. Wireless high-speed internet access also is available in all guest rooms and throughout public areas of the hotel'.
Like many of the new hotels, it has conference and meeting facilities, quality restaurants, and top-rate spa and fitness facilities.
At the 208-room Courtyard by Marriott Irkutsk City Center, the US chain say the hotel is 'designed to help business travellers maintain balance on the road. The spacious guest rooms are stylish and comfortable offer large well-lit work desks, ergonomic chairs and coffee makers. Health conscious guests can also take advantage of the on-site fitness centre'.
The Best Western Plus in Tyumen offers a fireplace aimed at symbolising its warm welcome to guests during the cold winter months.
The old Western stereotype is that only the most intrepid foreigners travel to Siberia.
In future, those making the journey can expect far greater comfort and even the familiar hotel names from home.
In another way, the hotel developments show Siberia connecting to the outside world, and indicate that despite economic stresses the region is increasingly integrated with the world outside.
A recent report on the hotel industry by Business Monitor International, which highlighted some of the Siberian developments, noted: 'Russia's hotel industry has been a growing area for foreign investment. Hotel companies' desire to invest in the Russian market illustrates the country's emerging importance as an international business destination.
'Furthermore, the growth in hotel complexes comes at a time when Russia's oil and gas wealth is filtering down and creating a new middle class'.
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