Serviced Apartments Grow in Number as an Alternative to Moscow Hotels
By James Alexander
With hotel room rates skyrocketing to $300 a night and up, resourceful Moscow real estate agencies and entrepreneurs are filling the gap with serviced apartments. If four years ago only a handful of entrepreneurs had introduced the concept of serviced apartments in Moscow, now the market is bustling at all levels of quality and price.
At the upper end of the scale are operators such as Pulford and Intermark. Their properties are centrally located on such thoroughfares as Tverskaya and Arbat.
Apart from the benefits offered by serviced apartments in all major cities, demand in Moscow is spurred by the shortage and extreme expense of hotel rooms. Moscow City Government over the last three years has embarked on a hotel renewal program. In essence this has meant that almost simultaneously, major tourist-class hotels have been demolished. The mammoth Rossiya, the Moskva, Intourist and Minsk went down almost together. In total, industry experts estimate that over 5,000 mid-priced hotel rooms have been removed from the market over the last few years.
A tiny fraction of these lost rooms are being replaced by ultra-expensive five star or even more luxurious properties being built on their sites. Suburban three-star Russian standard hotels more typically used by traders from the provinces than foreign tourists or businessmen are somewhat filling the gap at the lower levels. Even hotels outside Moscow city limits are finding the demand hard to meet.
Meanwhile, serviced apartments are flourishing. Denis Shmaryov, head of Intermark Serviced Apartments, says; “The advantages of a serviced apartment versus a hotel for a visiting businessman are obvious. Premium and secure locations in the city center with more space, greater privacy and generally more comfort. A fully equipped kitchen stocked with food, free hi-speed internet and free local calls, hotel style maid service, laundry service, and technical support are usually provided. And while all our apartments offer quality décor and are fully furnished and equipped with everything you would expect to have at home: satellite TV, DVD, stereo, washer, iron, fridge, microwave, toaster, electric kettle, hair-dryer, the rates are very, very reasonable.”
As a home away from home, the many well appointed apartments at around $130 a night now available in central Moscow are ideal for visiting executives who know their way around Moscow and don’t need the coddling of a hotel concierge to draw a map or pick a restaurant, advice on the nearest pharmacy, or book theater tickets. A certain independence is required of clients for serviced apartments. A basic ability to locate the nearest supermarket to buy the provisions so you can actually use the IKEA equipped kitchen would be typical!
Through the established, quality providers expect to pay $100 and up a night, usually irrespective of how many people sleep there. Intermark (www.intermark.ru) is typical of Western-style professional services. They have a fully-illustrated website for short-term rentals and their rates vary from $120 to $260 a night. They offer a choice of 35 apartments. One of their tworoom apartments on Arbat Street offers large, double glazed pvc windows, a large comfortable bedroom with queen-sized bed and a living room with satellite TV, DVD player and music system. The living room boasts two sofas, both of which fold out into double beds. There’s a large desk at which two can work comfortably and a one megabyte Internet connection. The kitchen boasts an electric cooker, microwave and a variety of pots and pans.
Four Squares, (www.foursquares.ru) with 16 apartments available and a price per night starting at 150 euros for a 30-night booking, is aiming at the resident expatriate and corporate market.
One of the benefits of serviced apartments is the freedom and flexibility to entertain Russian business colleagues ‘in your home’. Russians are highly impressed by such access and you earn kudos in their eyes which parlays into a more successful business relationship with you.
Much further down the scale are the $40 a night apartments offered in the classified section of the local Moscow Times. Expect Russian standard basic. The bed may be propped up with books, the plumbing eccentric, and the refrigerator might provide a constant hum and the occasional shudder. These are not domiciles in which to ‘entertain to impress’, but are substantially more comfortable and private than the rooms by the night or hour advertised on cards hanging from the neck of pensioners trawling the streets in front of the city’s mainline railway stations.
Variations on the serviced apartment are home stays which can be found through the Internet. “Uncle Pasha” (www.unclepasha.com) stands out. Paul Voytinsky offers a small one-bedroom with mezzanine apartment, suitable for 2-3 people, on the canal across from Red Square (M. Novokuznetskaya, Tretyakovskaya). It is cleaned daily and assistance is available for grocery shopping or buying tickets. He also includes a complimentary cell phone and a computer with high speed internet access all for $120 a night. “Neither ‘budget’ nor ‘luxury’, but a good choice for anyone who prefers it practical, functional, yet totally respectable,” his web site proclaims. To call Paul idiosyncratic would probably be a compliment! Among other indications is this announcement on his site: “After a succession of clients from hell from among Russian women seekers, I am forced to suspend services (including apartment rental) to this crowd. If you plan to use the services of me or my close associates please be prepared to provide a legitimate reason why you are traveling to Russia. Business or academic interests are acceptable. ‘Just travel’ is sort of OK. Anything else is suspect. Sports fan are non gratis and all British or Australian nationals are suspect. My respect for music notwithstanding, I will ask the practitioners of this art to stay elsewhere after a few complaints from neighbors.”
UnclePasha’s site also links you to cheap home stays and other budget accommodations. For example, he charmingly promotes Mrs. Kamilla Nikolayevna Sharvina’s home stay thus: “A room full of an assortment of items, from real antiques to construction debris, in the classic 'Moscow clutter' style, with a mid-19th century couch. The sort on which Oblomov lived and died. A clumsy but comfortable piece of furniture, as I had a chance to assess for myself when overcome with an urge to take a nap in the middle of making this page. Superb location just off Maroseyka, near Metro Kitay Gorod, 5 min. to the KGB headquarters, in a fashionable ‘arts’ area of the city. All this in exchange for a $15/night contribution to Mrs. Sharvina's household economy!! Space can probably be cleared for the second person. I'd say $10 extra for now will do. No rats. No roaches. Plumbing is in nearly working order. Leaks don't count; they are part of the style. Quiet. You will feel secure behind one of those doors with four locks and a chain.”
A former assistant to Mr. Voytinsky, Olesya Pomazan, has set up a Girl Friday Service to do everything from errands to research. A single mother from the Siberian city of Tomsk, she also offers bed and breakfast at $25 per person per night and her web site (www.russiangirlfriday.com) also carries ads for other similarly-priced home stays and links to home stays in other cities from St Petersburg to along the Trans-Siberian railroad.
Ms. Pomazan and Uncle Pasha both offer ‘orientation’ tours to familiarize you with the city and the neighborhood so you can safely trust your visiting relatives to their care while you commute from your studio flat to your office.
Moscow hotels are frequently completely full during the extremely busy times of major trade fairs or during state occasions when many foreign dignitaries are in town. At such times the city center is well served by these business class serviced apartments. At the very least, consider these excellent alternatives to the $300 + hotel rooms you might automatically book during your stay in Moscow.