N.Z. Guest Is Ukraina's 10 Millionth

Moscow's trademark wedding-cake Ukraina Hotel greeted its 10 millionth visitor Thursday, using the occasion to celebrate three things in one - the 70th anniversary of Intourist, once a monopolist Soviet tour operator and Ukraina's longtime provider of foreign tourists, and its own 40th birthday.

Under a Michelangelo-style ceiling painting of jubilating Ukrainian peasants, Ukraina director Boris Vinnichenko and Intourist president Alexander Uryupin congratulated themselves in successfully turning Moscow into a "tourist mecca."

"There is so much talk about the crisis in the country and the tourism industry, but in spite of everything ... tourism has become a priority under Mayor Yury Luzhkov," Uryupin said.

With its 34 floors and 1,017 rooms, the mammoth hotel can accommodate 1,600 guests. New Zealander Andrew Knowles, who happened to be Ukraina's 10 millionth guest, got a free tour of the Golden Ring cities from Intourist.

"We used to associate New Zealand with explorer James Cook and ecologically pure dairy products, but from now on, we'll think of it as the home country of our 10 millionth guest," Vinnichenko said.

Knowles, 50, who works in a forestry firm in Nelson on New Zealand's South Island, looked uneasy in the hotel's marble lobby in his jeans and sweater.

"This is indeed a wonderful surprise," he said, beaming from the unexpected attention and apologizing for not wearing a tie.

Knowles and his wife, Karen, arrived in Moscow on Wednesday afternoon on the Trans-Siberian from Beijing. He said he had always wanted to travel to Russia but had never had enough money. Knowles, who is planning to stay through Saturday, found the price of a Ukraina room "affordable for a simple working man."