Grand Hotel aims for more grandeur

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Oslo’s venerable Grand Hotel is set to become much more grand. It’s checking out of a newly merged hotel chain through which it had been run, with its high-profile owner Christian Ringnes opting to operate the hotel independently instead and spend millions on renovations.

Oslo's Grand Hotel has a prime location and a long history. Now it's about to be renovated and run independently. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Oslo’s Grand Hotel has a prime location and a long history. Now it’s about to be renovated and run independently. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The hotel’s history dates back to 1874, when it was built on the corner of Karl Johans Gate and Rosenkrantz Gate, just across the street from the then-new Norwegian Parliament building (Stortinget). Its prominent location in the heart of the city and its popular street-side Grand Cafe quickly made it a favourite meeting place for both the capital’s establishment and its artists and radicals known as the Kristiania Bohemians. Among them was artist Edvard Munch, who reportedly gave the café a painting in return for 42 dinners.

The hotel was expanded and remodeled from 1911 to 1913, when it took on the facade it still has today. In 1990, the then-stocklisted hotel was bought by real estate investor Christian Ringnes’ company Eiendomsspar, and its operation was taken over by Rica Hotels, which had ties to Norway’s royal family.

Rica, however, recently sold off its hotel operations to Scandic, and both Scandic and Ringnes reportedly decided that Scandic was not the right chain to run the Grand Hotel. “Grand Hotel is a five-star, icon hotel,” Svein Arild Steen-Mevold of Scandic, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday. “Scandic doesn’t operate in that segment.” He claims that Scandic took the initiative to drop operation of the Grand that it stood to inherit from Rica. Ringnes has a somewhat different view.

Martin Schulz of Germany, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy all grew up in Europe after the ravages of World War II. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The Grand Hotel also traditionally houses the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize every year, like here when top EU officials accepted the prize on behalf of the European Union two years ago. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“Scandic is out,” he told DN flatly. “It’s not that I have anything against Scandic, but Scandic and Grand Hotel just don’t belong together.” He claimed that after Scandic bought out Rica, “I quickly saw that Rica and Scandic looked at Grand differently. They (Scandic) talked about taking the tablecloths off the tables and introducing more self-service. I felt Scandic couldn’t deliver what Grand deserves. I was afraid Grand would be destroyed as the institution it is.”

Although Scandic refutes any talk of removing tablecloths, the two sides clearly agreed to part ways and Steen-Mevold told DN there is no conflict between the two. Now Ringnes has arranged for the hotel company Pandox to take over. It owns 105 hotels in nine countries and operates some of them itself, including the InterContinental and Hyatt Regency in Montreal. Ringnes’ Eiendomsspar owns half of Pandox along with the Norwegian siblings Helene and Christian Sundt.

DN reported that they now plan to invest NOK 150 million (USD 22 million) in renovating and modernizing the Grand, while maintaining its soul. The hotel has long hosted the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize every year and arranged the Nobel Banquet in December. It’s also the scene of countless other high-level events throughout the year, including the annual dinner of Norway’s central bank that always attracts the country’s top politicians and business leaders.

“The Grand Hotel is one of the most well-known hotels in Scandinavia and has a magical location and building,” Anders Nissen, Pandox’ chief, told DN. “We’ll look at what international trends we’ll include in the hotel, in terms of design, material, technology, tastes and smells. But we’ll be careful.”

Nissen said he thinks it can be an advantage for the Grand to be run outside of a major hotel chain, claiming that many hotel guests today prefer “independent and special hotels.” Ringnes, age 60, claimed, meanwhile, that business travelers “are defined by which hotel they stay in. If he says he’s staying at the  Grand Hotel, yes, then he’s one of us. That’s just the way it is.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund