By Tina Bellon
BERLIN (Reuters) - German hoteliers are mixing humanitarian concerns with business sense to accommodate asylum seekers as the winter approaches - and fill thousands of otherwise unwanted rooms.
With Germany struggling to shelter the record number of 800,000 migrants expected to arrive this year alone, local authorities are increasingly resorting to putting them up in hotels - their most costly option.
The hotel business is doing well in the main business and tourist centers. But outside the prime areas and peak seasons, rooms often lie empty and here the need for accommodation created by Europe's migrant crisis is proving an unexpected boon.
"Currently every hotel in Germany is receiving requests," said Iliane Dingel-Padberg, spokeswoman for the H-Hotels group. "We wouldn't consider so-called A-sites for the housing of refugees, rather our C-sites with limited occupancy rates. What motivates us is a mixture of economic and humanitarian reasons."
H-Hotels, whose brands include Ramada in Germany and Switzerland, recently leased a four-star hotel to the eastern state of Brandenburg for three years and is negotiating with several other states.
Germany is the top European destination for migrants seeking a safe and better life and Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week that the government would pay the 16 federal states 670 euros a month for every asylum seeker they took in.
The states and thousands of municipalities responsible for looking after migrants want to house them in apartments but availability is tight, especially in the main towns and cities.
Work is underway to convert available buildings for residential use, but in the meantime many asylum seekers are sleeping in accommodation unsuitable for long-term use such as gymnasiums or empty office blocks. Even more pressing is the need of those sleeping in tents now that the summer is over and temperatures are falling.
That leaves hotels, which cost local authorities working on tight budgets from 20 to 50 euros per night per migrant.
In the western city of Duesseldorf, around 1,000 are in hotels at a monthly cost of over 1,000 euros per person - more than three times what the city pays for rental accommodation.
"Many owners are interested due to low occupancy levels in their hotels and although this is the most expensive form of accommodation, we currently see no other possibility," said Martin Dommer, spokesman of the city of Cologne, which is housing 2,500 of its 7,800 migrants in mid-sized hotels.
In eastern Germany, Maritim Hotels has leased an entire hotel in the city of Halle, where occupancy rates are as low as 40 percent, for three years to accommodate 740 refugees.
Local newspapers estimate the yearly lease cost at 4 million euros, but neither the state nor the hotel group would comment on the precise agreement.
"The hotel's structural situation, particularly the high number of single rooms, make it difficult to fill the building permanently and profitably on the market," Gerd Prochaska, managing director of the Maritim Hotel Group, said.
The city of Berlin is housing 1,400 refugees, paying up to 50 euros per night to house each of them. Some are at the Aap Hotel, which advertises rooms starting at 20 euros online, although marketing manager Fatih Turhan said even the maximum rate doesn't cover his hotel's actual expenses.
Turhan said asylum seekers tended to use more electricity than other guests and, unable to afford restaurant meals, some tried to cook in their rooms. "One needs to consider that these rooms are subject to non-normal usage," he said.
(Additional reporting by Matthias Sobolewski)