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New Riga Hotels

Riga is quickly becoming a destination for all seasons. To satisfy the increasing demand for tourist accommodation, there has been a surge of new hotels throughout the city. Two of the newest luxury hotels in Riga, the Reval Hotel Elizabete and Nordic Hotel Bellevue, are positive about the future despite hovering economic concerns in Latvia

Reval Hotel Elizabete

One can catch the first glimpse of Reval Hotel Elizabete's sparkling facade glittering through the trees, while walking through Vermanes Park in Riga's center. The Reval Hotel Elizabete is the third in the triad of first-rate Reval Hotels in Riga. The hotel architect, Dr. Arch. Bruno Deslandes from SIA ARCHItravs, together with Maris Malahovskis of architectural firm SIA Nams, designed this strikingly modern building, resembling a cut gemstone, to complement the surrounding delicate, yet opulent, Art Nouveau buildings of Riga.

The interior design is the work of Argentineans Gabriela Iglesias and Pablo Stutz from GIAD Ltd., in London. The team combined modern textures such as steel, chrome, and glass with natural wood surfaces, and splashed everything with lively colors. The designers created a particularly warm atmosphere, which is further complimented by the helpful and friendly hotel staff. Although the Reval Hotel Elizabete was built on a fairly small plot of land, the designers surprise guests with a full selection of services, including a well-equipped fitness center, in this cozy and convenient hotel.

After spinning into the lobby through the large revolving doors, guests can enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the sleek restaurant or bar, bustling with business travelers and tourists. You can also mosey on outside to a courtyard perfect for enjoying lunch, dinner or a drink on warm summer days. Local chef Gints Aizupietis, who has worked abroad and trained with Alain Ducasse in France, cooks up culinary delights in the Reval Hotel Elizabete's restaurant. In addition to the delicious food, the restaurant offers convenient services, such as the 'Express Breakfast' starting at 4:30, and the 'Express Checkout', for guests leaving early for the airport. All of the Reval Hotel Elizabete's 228 rooms are equipped with full amenities, free WiFi Internet, and responsive room service.

For those looking for additional luxury, the hotel's suites come with a personal sauna. Room prices range from 120 euros for the standard Reval Class accommodation, to 480 euros for a luxurious suite. It is advisable for travelers to check the Reval Hotels' website, www.revalhotels.com, as room prices tend to fluctuate and deals can be found online.

For business travelers, the Reval Hotel Elizabete has two state-of-the-art conference rooms with capacity up to 50 people, and the central location of the hotel is ideal for easily reaching any part of the city. All Reval Hotels have high standards with added amenities for travelers on the job, although General Manager Pontus Gillfelt claims the hotels' target customers include "all segments of travelers, both corporate and leisure". Yet wisely, as the Latvian tourist season is at its peak in the summer, the Reval Hotels successfully fill their rooms in the slow winter months with business guests.

Nordic Hotel Bellevue

A short stroll away from the Reval Hotel Elizabete is the Estonian operated Nordic Hotel Bellevue; a beautifully restored building constructed in 1886 by Latvian architect Fridrihs Baumanis, and commissioned by the wealthy German merchant Jacob Berkholz. The Nordic Hotel Bellevue is located where the Riga canal, the Old Town, and Riga's train station converge, making it a perfect location to sit on the hotel's sunny, outdoor terrace and enjoy the sights and sounds of this lively, colorful neighborhood.

The hotel may evoke the image of a beautiful Baltic winter sunset, with its facade of burnt orange and yellow ocher. The interior design is minimalist, but has antique intricacies, such as oddly located walls and doors, reminding guests they are currently staying in a building with history All 112 rooms of this stylish four-star hotel combine rich colors, oak wood floors, natural fabrics and designer furniture, and impressively, no two rooms are alike. All standard rooms offer air conditioning, interactive Pay TV, WiFi Internet, a safe, mini bar, and other convenient amenities. Prices range from 99 euros for a standard single room, to 290 euros for a suite.

If you are looking to unwind during your travels, the best place to go is the luxurious Nordic Hotel Bellevue's Babor Spa. The well-known spa offers a variety of relaxing treatments and massages, as well as different relaxation rooms to pacify your mind; perhaps the most alluring room being the Rasual bath, an exotically decorated, enclosed environment where guests can enjoy treatments under a starry night sky. The Babor Spa also has a jacuzzi, steam bath, a 23 square meter liquid sound pool that massages the body while soothing the mind with music, and a heated bench, to warm the muscles and dream before going back into the bustling outside world.

Jens Remke, locally famous and former chef of the restaurant Otto Schwarz, is managing the kitchen in the Nordic Hotel Bellevue's restaurant Bel Ami. Remke has taught food technology at the University of Hamburg in Germany, and is currently interested in dishing out fresh interpretations of traditional classics; what arrives on your plate will very likely be a pleasant surprise. The elegant Bel Ami is truly the perfect place for dinner, or a champagne dessert after the ballet.

The hotel also offers conference facilities available to small business or private groups.

Looking Towards a Bright Future

Tourism in Latvia is finally getting the government level attention it deserves, as the industry is increasingly viewed as an important component of the local economy. Juris Zudovs, president of the Latvian Hotel and Restaurant Association, claims that although tourism revenue currently makes up approximately two percent of Latvia's GDP, government officials would like to see this number grow. The government legislature recently approved a tourist development plan for 2008 that will see spending allocated, in the amount of 15 million LVL (21,165,550 euros), for the promotion and greater awareness of Latvia abroad.

With a substantial number of new hotels, and more on the drawing board, the assumption is that hotel owners in Riga have never had it so good. Indeed, Baiba Plume, manager of the Latvian Tourism Information Bureau in Riga, says that although the rapid growth in the number of visitors coming to Latvia has slowed, Latvia still saw a 11 percent increase in tourists from 2006 to 2007. Plume notes the current task at hand is to "keep the growth positive, and to maintain quality standards" of products and services at all Latvian hotels and restaurants. In April, inflation in Latvia reached 17.5 percent in its relentless uphill march, pushed by higher wage demands, food prices, and service costs. To the tourist, this translates into higher costs for a Latvian vacation. The sad fact is, a ticket to the opera, an evening dinner, taxi fares, souvenirs, and the bill after sitting all afternoon in a beer garden, will cost you more today. Riga simply isn't the cheap travel destination it was a few years back.

Slowing economies in Western Europe and the United States, the weakening US dollar, and the credit crisis, also affect the slowing tourist growth. Zudovs also notes that hotels reported a three percent decrease in business from January 2007 to 2008. However, these economic concerns do not seem to be a major worry for hotel owners; part of the business requires understanding that the planning and development of a hotel is not a product of short-term thinking, and economic slowdowns are typical in the business world. Dana Zinovatna, Nordic Hotel Bellevue Marketing Manager, says that the hotel is off to a running start and rooms are fully booked for the summer. However, she adds that this season lacks any big events, such as a NATO conference or Eurovision contest, which generally bring in large crowds.

Gillfelt, Reval Hotels General Manager, asserts that beyond this year's expectations, the long-term investment opportunities are very good in Riga. The Latvian daily newspaper, Diena, reports that although fewer visitors may be coming to Latvia from Germany, other European nations, or the United States, there may be an increase of travelers from Russia, Ukraine, China, and other countries experiencing relatively strong economic growth. GDP growth in Latvia has dropped precipitously, from 8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007, to 3.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008. And although some industries are suffering, the flexible Latvian job market allows for laidoff workers to find jobs in alternative growing fields. Considering that Riga also boasts low unemployment rates, both Gillfelt and Zinovatna are pleased to report their hotels had no trouble in recruiting staff.

With 90 hotels offering about 10,000 beds in Riga, there is a room available for every type of traveler, and luckily for the traveler, growing competition means a slightly overall decrease in room rates. Another important device to counterbalance Latvia's short summer tourist season, is to develop Riga into a business and conference center, a goal organized by the Riga Convention Bureau. Some large conference facilities currently exist, such as the Congress Hall with seating for up to 800 guests, and the Reval Hotel Latvia's recently expanded corporate facilities. Plans are also underway by a Norwegian developing company, to build a large conference center near Riga's airport. True, Riga is looking towards a bright future as a leading travel destination. The evidence is here, marked by the increasing availability of quality accommodations with high service standards. Nothing is ever achieved without setting ambitious goals, and by the looks of the achievements of the Nordic Hotel Bellevue and the Reval Hotel Elizabete, we're well on the way towards reaching them.

By Dorian Ziedonis