Moving Marriott across the GLOBE

Weston Town Crier, MA
July 28 2005

Moving Marriott across the GLOBE

By Cheryl Balian Scaparrotta / Correspondent
Thursday, July 28, 2005

In the culmination of an eight-year labor of love, a Weston
businessman is helping awaken a sleepy post-communist economy 5,000
miles from home by funding a glamorous new hotel in the former Soviet
republic of Armenia.

Paul Korian is managing partner of AK Development, an investor
group behind the purchase and multi-million dollar renovation of the
Marriott Hotel in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. The nine-story hotel,
with 226 guest rooms and four restaurants, is at the heart of the
city’s cultural and business center.

`The hotel marks a number of firsts,’ explained Korian, an
Armenian-American who has resided in Weston for eight years. `It’s
the largest U.S. investment in Armenia, and the first
internationally-branded investment in that nation.’

It’s probably also the first time that Korian and other private
investors, most of whom are also Armenian-Americans from the Boston
area, had ever come face-to-face with the stark realities of the
communist era.

`During renovation, contractors discovered a secret level in the
building, used by KGB agents to monitor listening devices in rooms,’
he recalled.

The five-star hotel is housed in a 1950s-era building. While
architecturally pleasing, it needed a total renovation to meet
international hospitality standards.

The involvement of Marriott, one of the world’s best-known hotel
operators, added luster and credibility to the project.

`The property itself convinced Marriott to get on board with
us,’ explained Korian. `They were amazed by its prestigious
location.’

The grandiose building, purchased by AK Development from the
government for $10 million, sits prominently on Yerevan’s Republic
Square, center of the capital city. The National Art Gallery is
opposite the hotel, and a number of other museums and businesses are
within walking distance.

While the structure had always functioned as a hotel, guests
experienced few, if any, Western-style amenities. Credit cards were
not accepted for payment – wads of cash sufficed – and making
outgoing phone calls were difficult at best.

These situations have been rectified, and higher health and safety
measures have also been implemented.

`Marriott has been a pioneer in stepping into former communist
lands, like Poland,’ Korian pointed out.

But challenges of doing business in the former USSR persisted
throughout the project. For example, artwork shipments to the hotel
were delayed for several weeks because border guards thought they
were originals.

Armenia, a mountainous country about the size of Belgium, is a
sovereign nation of 3.3 million currently transitioning into a
market-based economy.

Located in the Caucasus region at the crossroads of the Old Silk
Road between Asia and Europe, it gained independence from the USSR in
1991.

Checking into a homeland opportunity

Korian, a co-founder of Staples, the office superstore, had no
previous experience as a hotelier. Though he had always been active
in the Armenian community, a devastating earthquake that struck
Armenia in 1988 prompted him and many others to evaluate more
permanent ways to aid their ethnic homeland.

`The opportunity is bringing Western-style business practices to
a post-Soviet country,’ Korian said.

AK Development was created in 1997 to acquire and restore the
hotel, which was offered for sale through Merrill Lynch. Since the
1998 purchase, Korian has traveled back and forth between Weston and
Armenia at least 25 times.

Hallmarks of luxury in the new hotel – for which the president
of Armenia cut the ceremonial ribbon for -include a fitness center,
in-room Internet connectivity, 24-hour room service and a two-story
presidential suite fit for visiting heads of state.

Marriott has incorporated the hotel into its worldwide
reservations system, sent over a dozen Armenian employees abroad for
management training, and installed seasoned company executives in
Yerevan.

Katrin Hentszel, the hotel’s general manager, has worked for
Marriott in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Warsaw. The hotel’s director of
sales and marketing, Alex Nurock, comes to his new post fresh off a
stint at the Riviera Marriott in Monaco.

Korian and Hentszel noted that Armenia is just beginning to market
its assets, like its rich history and natural beauty, to a global
audience. It was always a tourist destination for those in the Soviet
system, and many USSR Olympic athletes trained in its warm summer
climate.

In fact, Armenia’s famous brandy was said to be a favorite of
Winston Churchill.

`The hotel is a catalyst to demonstrate that people from all
around the world can enjoy Armenian culture,’ emphasized Korian.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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