Hotel Armenia was officially put on the map of international accommodation this week with a Grand Opening that attached the Marriott name to the former state hotel.
Ceremonies Monday culminated five years of restoration
and a multi-million dollar effort by a group of
Diaspora Armenians to realize a world-class investment
“This is an exiting time for our local community and guests,” said Katrin Hentszel, General Manager of Armenia Marriott. “This one and only international brand name hotel in all Armenia has evolved from an aged hotel into one of Marriott’s nicest and modern properties.”
President Robert Kocharyan and Catholicos of all Armenians Garegin II were on hand for ribbon cutting and a blessing ceremony, followed by the handover of the Marriott Flag.
Armenia Marriott offers the largest guest accommodation
in the country with 226 rooms, including 178 deluxe
rooms, 37 executive rooms and 11 suites. Rates
range from $170 to $1,000 (for the Presidential
Suite). The hotel has four restaurants and lounges,
cafés, shops, a fitness club and 1165 square
meters banquet hall.
AK Development, owner of the hotel says that today’s Armenia Marriott meets the highest international standards, just like a Marriottt hotel anywhere else in the world.
“It is the largest American investment and the second biggest foreign direct investment in Armenia,” said General Manager of AK Development Paul Korian. “We are so proud that we managed to fulfill all our commitments to our native Country of Armenia.”
Armenia Marriott is one in a group of buildings that frame Yerevan’s Republic Square. It was built in 1950 and started operations as a hotel in 1958. Hotel Armenia was the main intourist hotel of Yerevan during Soviet times and most VIP guests stayed there.
In 1997 the Armenian Government retained Merrill Lynch International to conduct a tender offer for the privatization of the hotel. AK Development, a group of Diaspora Armenians who joined to seek investment opportunities in Armenia, purchased the hotel for $10.4 million and invested $42 million to bring the hotel to international standards.
more whispering for the Gasparians
In the intervening years, the hotel was completely renovated. Standard rooms were doubled in size and staff was cut in half. About 200 workers remain, most trained in Marriott destination countries.
While the Hotel Armenia was a well known landmark during Soviet times it could hardly become the hub for business and tourism in modern Armenia. The new managers of the hotel say that during the renovation they discovered an entire secret level in one part of the hotel, a hidden floor with a 5-foot ceiling (reminiscent of the movie “Being John Malkovich”), used during the Soviet era by KGB agents to monitor listening devices in guest rooms.
Until the mid‘90s, hotel guests checked
their room keys with “floor ladies”,
women stationed on every guest floor, whose job
was to collect and retrieve keys for that level.
And during Soviet times it was also the floor
ladies’ job to inform KGB of guests’
comings and goings.
Ovsanna and Ashot Gasparian, Armenians from Holland,
often visited Armenia during Soviet times and
stayed at the Hotel Armenia.
“We knew that there were listening devices
in the rooms of the hotel and that’s why
we never could speak free and loudly in the room,”
The Gasparyans say that now these memories made them smile, bur at that time when they wanted to communicate while in the room of the hotel they had to whisper at each others ears or to write messages to each other.
“We also knew that our luggage was checked before being delivered to the room,” says Ashot, “and it all made our stay very uncomfortable.”
Karine Yengoyan is the only of 40 “floor
ladies” who remained at the hotel after
it was privatized and renamed. Yengoyan, 40, now
is a House Keeping Supervisior.
“As for me, I was never questioned by KGB, but I heard that some of the floor ladies were cooperating with KGB officers,” she says. “Now the position of the floor lady is seen as being very strange, but during Soviet times, when there was not appropriate service, the floor lady were there to help the tourists. We were explaining routes, some destinations, in other words being their guides.”
Alla Zmulyukova, another veteran of the Hotel Armenia has been working at the hotel for 25 years as supervisor. Zmulyukova was also working for “Intourist”, the tourism promoting body of the Soviet Union.
“Hotel Armenia was the best in Yerevan, despite its poor service. But it was not the fault of the hotel managers but because the tourism industry was not well developed in Soviet times,” she said.
In the hotel where guests were once spied upon by employees, today’s Armenia Marriott’s staff have been trained in the Marriott method of greeting guests with a smile.
Rouben Keropyan believes he is one of the “faces” of Armenia Marriot. Keropyan, 60, has been opening the hotel doors for 12 years.
“The doorman is the first the guests see before seeing their rooms,” he says. “No matter if you are in high mood or not, the doorman is the face of the company and his look should be respective to the brand of the company.”