Corinthia property to benefit from St Petersburg’s economic growth
The Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg, already recognised as one of the finest five-star hotels in Russia’s second largest city, is well positioned to benefit from the increasing attractiveness of St Petersburg to foreign investors, local business and tourists, according to its French-born general manager, Eric Pere.
It is, in itself, a good reason to visit or do business in the city.
The hotel, occupying two palatial 19th century buildings on the elegant Nevsky Prospect, the city’s 4.5-kilometre main boulevard, was acquired in 2002 and reopened in 2009 after extensive rebuilding and renovation (the majestic façades were retained and restored), representing an investment of around €200 million.
It is eminently geared to cater for St Petersburg’s expected growth. Every one of its spacious 388 rooms, including 107 executive superior rooms, is luxuriously appointed. There are several suites and junior suites, with the opulent Royal Suite (at €6,000 a night) comprising three bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, walk-in wardrobes, and sitting room.
The three restaurants offer a varied cuisine, although two of them are themed – the Vienna Café and the Bierstube.
The Corinthia also boasts a state-of-the-art business centre, with 15 meeting rooms accommodating 1,000 people. These include the Nevsky Ballroom, the largest in St Petersburg, with a capacity for 700 guests when used as a reception hall.
Sipping coffee in the grand foyer, completed in 2008 after the space linking the two buildings was built, Mr Pere says his major challenge is to recruit suitably qualified staff. The hotel currently has 300 employees (including one Maltese, chief engineer Chris Tabone) but though the level of education in Russia is high, not enough importance has been given to the hospitality industry.
He is hopeful, though, that things would improve with the opening of new hotel schools – he sits on the board of one. Qualified hotel staff will certainly be in demand as St Petersburg continues to attract more visitors – a 3.6 per cent growth is expected this year, according to the English-language weekly The St Petersburg Times, for a total of 5.7 million, 2.5 million of them foreign tourists. They come mostly from China, Germany and Turkey, but also from Japan, India, Brazil and Israel. Visitors are expected to total seven million by 2016.
This growth is being attributed to the introduction of more direct flights to St Petersburg (Air Malta flies twice a week) and to the waiving of visa requirements by a number of countries. The city’s airport, which has two terminals – one domestic, the other international – is being revamped.
What is truly enhancing St Petersburg’s economic prospects, however, is the decision of large companies and corporations to move their main operations there. Gazprom, the giant oil and gas producer, will be completing the move of its headquarters to St Petersburg from Moscow within three years.
All this will generate business, as will the relative affluence of the mostly young population of St Petersburg: one huge shopping arcade just off Nevsky Prospekt was thronged with thousands of people on the Saturday I was there.
Mr Pere, who has been general manager of the hotel for the last 18 months, having previously been general manager at the Corinthia Hotel Tripoli, his first appointment within the group, is upbeat about the hotel’s prospects. He describes it as profitable and “the best and most successful hotel in town”.
The hotel’s clientele, 35 per cent of whom is Russian, followed by Germans, UK and French with 10 per cent each, is equally divided between corporate business, MICE business, and leisure.
The hotel will benefit from St Petersburg’s economic growth also because its complex includes apartments, offices and retail space on either side of the hotel proper, which are being rented out to corporate clients. Patrick Catania, who has been International Hotel Investments’ representative in St Petersburg for four years, explained that after the company acquired the existing hotel in 2002, it secured the two adjoining blocks, adding 100 hotel rooms and the conference and business centre to the entire property.
The building on the hotel’s right (No. 55, Nevsky Prospekt) is completely independent. It consists of five floors of offices, shops and service-oriented operations, with a restaurant to be opened on the ground floor and another in the central courtyard.
The block is already 35-40 per cent occupied. A reception area is being readied, which is totally separate from the hotel.
Mr Catania’s role for IHI, the hotel owner, involves dealing with licensing bodies, rent negotiations, insurance policies, legal permits and other bureaucratic hurdles which can be considerable when setting up shop in Russia.
Work is also ongoing on the ground floor at No. 59 (the hotel’s number is 57) where office space is being rented out to banks and other businesses.