As the Locarno Film Festival begins its 58thedition this week, the event's organisers are having to address the deepeningcrisis in the Swiss lakeside town's hotels.

This year, the festival has 153 fewer hotelrooms to draw on in Locarno for guests after the closure of Hotel Zurigo andBeau Rivage and the conversion of the neighbouring Hotel Muralto into luxuryappartments.

Moreover, 2005 looks like being the last yearthat jury members will be accommodated in the Hotel Reber since this propertyis also to make way for flats, while the future of the Grand Hotel - thetraditional meeting place for festival-goers each evening after the open-airprogramme on the Piazza - appears uncertain. The first Locarno festival washeld in the Grand Hotel's grounds in 1946.

Speaking to the Swiss newspaper St. GallerTagblatt at the weekend, festival president Marco Solari observed that "itis easier to find a new artistic director than proposals of solutions to thisproblem" and pointed out that "the epicentre of the festival ismoving in the direction of [the neighbouring town of] Ascona" where fourfive-star hotels such as the Eden Roc and Castello Seeschloss are located.

In acknowledgement of these developments, thefestival has introduced the free FestiBus service for accredited guestsoperating between Locarno and Ascona and will also have a shuttle miniaturetrain connecting Ascona's Otello Cinema with the screening venues at Locarno'sFevi centre where the International Competition films are premiered.

According to local observers, the accommodationsqueeze in Locarno is likely to force some festival guests in future to lookfor hotels further afield in Brissago, the Valle Maggia or on the Gamborognoside of Lago Maggiore.