Tallinn hotels, restaurants fighting to adapt to alleviate crisis damage

Palace hotell in Tallinn.
Palace hotell in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

December is traditionally a busy time for hotels and restaurants but there will be few foreign tourists or Christmas parties this year. Now Tallinn's establishments are desperately trying to find ways to alleviate the damage caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Palace Hotell manager Andra Piirsalu said she has never experienced a Christmas like this one. 

"Today is a difficult time. Let's just say we are very happy with each guest and we know their name and face. We are still only talking about a few dozen people a day," she told ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) on Sunday.

Like the Palace, many hotels are striving to attract customers with lower prices, at least during the Christmas and New Year period. Hotels are also going the extra mile offering extras such as morning surprises in slippers, private Christmas-themed guided tours of the Old Town and gingerbread workshops.

Innovative solutions

While the Palace has already gone bankrupt and then relaunch this year, the Hektor container hotel in Telliskivi closed in March and reopened in the summer.

Manager Killu Maidla said in the autumn the options were to stay closed or try and find longterm renters.

"To give people the opportunity to stay in fashionable Telliskivi at a good price, and we have done that. We currently have long-term customers in the house, more than half of the rooms are occupied," Maidla said.

Tenants now live in hotel rooms created from sea containers where the rent costs as much an apartment in Mustamäe. 

"We also have a really nice communal life, we made joint meals, we do joint cooking and cycling trips to discover the area," Maidla said.

Olde Hansa, which offers medieval food in the Old Town, was especially popular among Finnish tourists before the crisis. But now the restaurant is also trying to introduce the Middle Ages to Estonians. Since October, on weekends, the restaurant has been serving medieval festive meals alongside a show.

"We have a lot of talented employees who have learned to tell living stories of medieval legends. It is such a spectacular performance with dinner and it has sold out, but we are still following the principle of scattering. In addition, we have different menus available," said restaurant manager Aile Laansalu.

But this has not been enough for Olde Hansa, which has been operating for more than 20 years, so the restaurant will close its doors in January and hopefully reopen in spring.

Home delivery

December is one of the most important months for restaurants but if the customers will go to the restaurants, then the restaurants will come to the customers. 

One of the ways many restaurants have tried to survive the crisis is by turning to home delivery options. Restaurant Salt told AK it has decided to offer new Christmas menus which people can order to eat at home.

"We offer different packages to take home, we are creating a Christmas party, a Christmas table, a selection of appetizers. We have adapted our menu to make it convenient to take home," said Tiina Kõresoo, the restaurant's hostess.

Kõresoo said during a difficult time such as this the restaurant must adapt to change and the changed needs of its customers.

Domestic tourism has increased

Trying to attract Estonian people to Tallinn has borne fruit. Compared to October last year, there were 20 percent more domestic tourists in accommodation establishments and most of them stayed in Harju County. However, there were 89 percent fewer foreign tourists.

Chairman of the Board of the Estonian Hotel and Restaurant Association Ain Käpa said the whole tourism sector is experiencing a huge crisis.

"And the situation in Estonia as a whole is bad, but of course it is extremely difficult in Tallinn, where hotel turnover has fallen by more than 80 percent," said Käpp.

Käpp did not say how many hotels and restaurants had closed due to the crisis.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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