Booming Batumi - the new Black Sea destination

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The Independent Online

US brand Sheraton has opened the first Western-branded hotel in the Georgian city of Batumi, hoping to capitalize on the region's increasing tourism appeal.

The 203-room Sheraton officially opened in May, offering views of the sea, the largest ballroom in Batumi, its own nightclub and casino, a 750 square metre spa, fitness center and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

The white lighthouse that tops the Sheraton has already become a landmark in the city, designed in the style of the Batumi lighthouse of Alexandria built by Alexander the Great in 290 B.C., marking one of the six destroyed wonders of Antique.

Sheraton President Roeland Vos said that "the reputation of the Sheraton name will assist further positioning Batumi as a destination for the international traveller."

The Sheraton is the first of several new hotels planned for the city, according to local tourism authorities. It precedes a 166 room Radisson due to open in 2012 and a new Hyatt planned for 2015.

Batumi sits on the Black Sea coast in the Georgian region of Adjara, closer by several hundred miles to Turkey than to the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

On a recent visit to the town, accompanied by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Batumi "the most beautiful town of the Black Sea shore".

With a subtropical climate and wide beachfront, the city is experiencing a boom in tourism, particularly from cruise ships that call at the busy port.

In 2009, visitor figures to the region jumped 94 percent as tourists - predominantly Turkish - returned following an easing of tensions with Russia.