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20 March 2024, 15:45

Lukashenko: Robust hospitality business is good for country’s image 

“I want to see our capital to preserve the best features of the past, the traditional ones. To take care of the historical heritage that has survived here. And to restore the things that were lost. For example, we will bring back Hotel d’Europe. It is a small hotel. It did not survive the war but we will restore it. We have reconstructed the Minsk Town Hall. We are working on the shopping stalls. We will continue this policy for the good of the people. We need to bring the history back to the city of Minsk, the Belarusian president said as he talked to the media in 2004. Twenty years have passed since then. 

Hotel d’Europe is a world-class hotel. Travelers choose it for its exclusivity, service and quality. They don't even imagine that the building was completely destroyed during the war and could have disappeared from the map of the Belarusian capital. In the new episode of the YouTube project "After the Fact: Lukashenko’s Decisions" we will explore the country's hotel scene and learn why Minsk needs five-star hotels. What does the president take into account when considering new investment projects?
Milestones in the history of Hotel d’Europe in the center of Minsk

Hotel d’Europe, which is located in the heart of the Belarusian capital, is one of the most popular in Minsk today. Tourists are attracted not only by its comfortable conditions but also by its unique 100-year-old history. The hotel was a place of affection for the Minsk artistic community. Vladimir Mayakovsky and Marc Chagall stayed here.

The quality of services has always been very high here. The hotel sent a car or a carriage to a railway station to pick up its guests. By the way, Hotel d’Europe was the first in Minsk to use an elevator.

“The hotel has a strong character. The building has been destroyed more than once, survived fire at the end of the 19th century. It witnessed the golden age of the Russian Empire (Minsk was part of it then). Then the revolution, then the First World War. There are the photographs depicting many historical events that took place near the hotel. Then came the Second World War. Unfortunately, the first airstrikes destroyed the building  although the façade survived with a proud signboard Hotel d’Europe. the building was pulled down in the 1950s, as it was recognized unrestorable,” said director of Hotel d’Europe Dmitry Kupriyanok. 

After the war, the city had more important things to worry about. Sixty years later, In 2004, the president commissioned the Minsk mayor's office to rebuild the hotel in the style of the last century and in a five-star status. 

“We will recreate Hotel d’Europe, and next to it we will build a number of   high-end shops. We will give Minsk residents a piece of the West, with the same goods and prices. Let them come and see. If they like such a life, such prices and luxury goods, we will move in this direction. If they choose to live their own life, even if not a very rich but stable one, then we will comply. Thus, we will offer a choice to Minsk residents. Not only to Minsk residents, but also to all others who will come to our city, to our capital,” the Belarusian president said back in 2004.

Aleksandr Lukashenko  is convinced that the advantageous geographical position of Belarus has determined its status as an important transit state. "Our land has a lot of architectural, historical and cultural monuments, quite unique natural resources, including primeval forests and aquatic ecosystems. All this is very attractive for foreign tourists who are welcome in the country. This means an influx of currency," he said.

A historic decision and a calling card of the Belarusian capital

The director of Hotel d’Europe noted that the decision taken by the president in 2004 to restore the hotel was a historic one. "I am grateful to the president for this historic decision. Recently we talked with Minsk Mayor Vladimir Kukharev. We concurred that Hotel d’Europe is a calling card of the city. It is located in the most historical place of the city," Dmitry Kupriyanyuk said.

Hotel d’Europe opened its doors in 2007. The building, which was restored on the instruction of the Belarusian president, complies with all the necessary requirements. As Aleksandr Lukashenko noted at the time, it makes the Belarusian capital more beautiful. The modern Hotel d’Europe is a world-class hotel. It offers not only comfortable hotel rooms, but also many other services that are in demand in this segment: a conference hall, VIP rooms, a restaurant, a banquet hall, a hairdressing salon, a nigh club, a sports and fitness center. What is gratifying: about 80% of the materials used in the construction and decoration of the building were domestically produced. What is gratifying: about 80% of the materials used in the construction and decoration of the building were domestically produced, the hotel employees said.

"The decision to restore the five-star hotel in its original form is one of the most important decisions. We are equipped to host events of any format. It's not just about hospitality business. We host a huge number of meetings. Our conference halls are breaking attendance records," the hotel director said  stressing that in terms of attendance, the hotel overtook 2019, before covid and before the sanctions.

He added: “Our hotel is multi-function. It can host negotiations, business lunches, signing ceremonies. of course we provide accommodation.  a five-star hotel implies a full range of services: a swimming pool, all types of massage, the whole complex [of services], meals, individual meals. Our hotel is frequented by many high-profile guests. We mostly cater to guests from the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation. Last year more than 80% of our guests are citizens of the Russian Federation.

What does Lukashenko pay attention to while considering new investment projects?

It became clear that Belarus was an attractive place for investors. The number of infrastructure development plans and hotel construction projects was increasing.

The construction of Hotel d’Europe was followed by many more hotel constrution projects. In 2008 eight hotel complexes were under construction in Minsk with the participation of foreign capital, another ten were in the development phase. When considering a new investment project, the president mainly looks into the benefits it can bring to the state and citizens. Given the high cost of land in Minsk, it is important that every square meter should be used to benefit public interests and bring money to the country.

Belarus’ hotel business got a huge boost due to the 2014 IIHF World Championship. About 15 new hotels had been built in Minsk in the run-up to this sporting event. One of them, the 4-star Renaissance Minsk Hotel, was commissioned by the president. It was designed by Belarusian specialists and built using funds of a Russian investor. The hotel has 264 well-furnished rooms of all types - from standard rooms to presidential suites. The design uses the national theme, including motives of Belarusian nature. On the whole, the Renaissance Minsk Hotel brand belongs to one of the world’s most famous hotel chains - Marriott International. It runs about 3,700 hotels in 72 countries.

In total, athletes, fans and journalists could choose from 43 hotels with their total number of rooms close to 9,600.

Even before the decision to host the 2nd European Games in Minsk was made, it was clear that the hotel industry was well prepared for this large-scale event. Belarus only had to build and renovate just two or three facilities and that was it. Local hotels were looking forward to the influx of foreign guests. All in all, about 35,000 tourists visited Minsk during the 2nd European Games. No one had to sleep outdoors.

During a working trip to Gomel in August 2018, Aleksandr Lukashenko said that this sports event would bring huge dividends to the country. “Many of our facilities were ready for these competitions. We are not building much. As for the other hotels, roads, housing, and the rest, we had to build them anyway. And we are just catching up now. This is why it enhances the image of our state. it is a contribution to the nation’s health and an investment in high-performance sports.

Why are hotels important for the country’s image?

It is understandable that the 2020 pandemic could not but affect the performance of the entire tourism industry. The occupancy rate in Belarusian hotels went down but the same thing happened in all countries. Taking into account the fact that Belarus did not close its borders, our hospitality industry was not in the worst situation possible. Now we can safely say that the tourism industry has bounced back to its pre-pandemic levels. Last year almost 250,000 tourists stayed in the capital city, almost 3 times more than in 2020. Foreigners accounted for 74% of the total. They came from Russia, China, Latvia, Lithuania, and Uzbekistan.

“The president is absolutely right. We need to explore new markets. Today the Russian Federation is our market without a doubt. I’ll go to Moscow literally next week. There are quite many excellent platforms there that have replaced European ones and have even improved the quality of service,” Director of Hotel d’Europe said.  

According to him, they cooperate a lot with Russian regions, for example, Ufa. “Today indeed citizens of the Russian Federation are rediscovering Belarus. They definitely love Minsk a lot,” Dmitry  Kupriyanyuk said.

He went on reflecting on the role of the hospitality business in shaping the country’s image. “You know this phrase: the theater begins with the cloakroom. It seems to me that any country begins with hospitality. It's a huge responsibility for us. Because we are the first to welcome guests. The airport and then the hotel. The hotel is definitely the factor that creates the first impression. How hospitable the Republic of Belarus is! This is why I can definitely tell you that despite the policy of sanctions against our country, we are doing fine. Figures have repeatedly demonstrated that Hotel d’Europe is fully booked. Even in 2024.

What is, in Lukashenko’s view, the perfect place for living?

Hotel d’Europe is located in the very heart of the capital city and is one of Minsk’s most popular hotels. Yet, there are many other great hotels in the country. Today Belarus has more than 380 hotels and about 210 other complexes able to accommodate guests. Some facilities are truly unique. These are hotels in famous tourist sites like the Nesvizh Palace and Park Ensemble and Mir Castle. Their guests can feel the atmosphere of an ancient residence. It is logical that the capital and large cities have a greater choice of hotels. But even small district centers have at least one hotel. Belarusians are glad to welcome guests and will certainly do everything to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

“We are proud of our history, of the continuity of values, traditions, customs, perceptions about good and evil, about right and wrong. We are nurtured by our land, by the inimitable Belarusian nature, forests, lakes, fields, clean air. This is truly an ideal place for a person to live! And it will always be with us. We invite you to visit our country. Come, breathe our air, taste the world’s best food. This is not an exaggeration,” the Belarusian president said in his Address to Belarusian people and the National Assembly in January 2022.
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