The hospitality and hotel industries cannot be consideredflagship sectors of the Russian economy. Indeed, their revenue statistics are not particularly impressive compared to other industries. However, this can be treated as an advantage, because there is hardly any other industry with such development potential. Overall, some 1.5 million people are employed in the hospitality industry, which accounts for approximately 3% of GDP. Apparently, there is room for increasing both figures.
Russia spans a range of climatic zones, from the icy deserts of the Arctic to subtropical beaches. With an area of 17.1 million square kilometres, Russia has an incredible number of natural, historical and cultural sites that can become exciting travel destinations and generate significant profits if the right approach is taken. With a population of 143 million, Russia also has enormous domestic tourism potential.
Organized tourism dates from as late as the nineteenth century, when transportation services became broadly available and relatively cheap. However, even prior to this, there was a need for temporary accommodations. Naturally, there were hotels in Russia. The first inns appeared in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries and looked exactly the same as their European counterparts — travellers were offered meals and beds, and their horses were provided with shelter. Inns of this kind remained until the second half of the fifteenth century.
Because the country had expanded very significantly by that time, a network of postal houses with inns was created in order to ensure postal communication with distant portions of the country. A person could stay overnight and even change his horse, provided he was on a special mission and had a travel voucher.
The merchant court («gostiny dvor») was a peculiar type of hotel combing the services of a guesthouse and a warehouse, in which travelling merchants could leave their goods and then wholesale them. The warehousing of commodities outside of merchant courts was not allowed. Merchant courts appeared as early as the twelfth century and retained their original form until the seventeenth century, when merchants were allowed to keep their goods wherever they wanted. Even though they were not as popular as before, such hotel facilities remained until the final days of the Russian Empire.
The first real hotels opened in Russia only as late as the eighteenth century. These were mostly designed for well-to-do noblemen, while merchants still preferred guesthouses and courts. The development of railway transportation provided a boost to the hotel industry. Postal stations fell into decay, because there was no need for covering enormous distances on horseback, especially in Central Russia. Hotels flourished — from expensive luxury facilities to dosshouses.
There were only a few hotels in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but a hundred years later, there were more than three hundred. Many hotels were built at the turn of the twentieth century, including some remarkable examples of architecture and comfort, such as the National Hotel and the Metropol in Moscow, and the Astoria in St. Petersburg. All in all, there were more than 5,000 hotels in Russia by 1910.
The hotel business was virtually destroyed during the few years following the 1917 Revolution. Hotel buildings were expropriated and given to various state institutions. In addition, an important prerequisite for the development of hotels was lost, as people were discouraged from travelling between various regions of the country. Nevertheless, by the middle of the 1920s (the NEP period), hotels reappeared in almost every town, although the quality was far behind that of hotels operating before the Revolution.
In 1934, a standard charter for a hotel trust was developed, and for five decades to come, Soviet hotels turned into spiritless accommodation machines offering the standard low-quality service package to the average citizen. There were just a few hotels for foreigners or high-ranking party officials that were of a markedly higher level of quality. Hotels were built until the last years of the USSR, but there was always a shortage of rooms, because foreign trips were almost impossible for Soviet citizens and hotels were occupied by domestic tourists. Moreover, the capacity of hotels was comparatively low. There were 5,000 hotels in Russia in 1910, and 70 years later, there were only 7,000, with a combined capacity of only 700,000guests. Effortswere made to respond to the shortage of rooms by building giant hotels, such as the Cosmos (capable of accommodating 3,600 guests), the Rossiya (5,300) and the Izmailovo (10,000). Nevertheless, the shortage remained through the final years of Soviet power.