Travel itineraries

Russia missed a chance to become a center of tourism.
Russian tourist industry is one of the few sectors not smelling of oil and gas, but which in the past year had a chance to become profitable for the budget. However, there is not enough political will to facilitate the visa regime for foreign tourists. And now the price advantage is disappearing: the weak ruble, which attracted travelers to the country, started to strengthen. Russians themselves spend less and less time on the Russian resorts: because of the rising ruble spending a holiday in Turkey is again cheaper than in Sochi.

My friend, who returned from a tour to Iran, says: The local residents hope that the Russian authorities will soon ease visa procedures for Iranians arriving in Moscow in tourist groups. Recently, the Iranians are really eager to travel to Russia, as, in fact, tourists from other countries. This is confirmed by the official statistics, which states that the number of tourists from Iran has increased by 78%; from India for the first nine months of 2016 by 38.6%, from China by 33%, from Belgium by 28%. The figures seem to be true after visiting the Moscow metro station "Revolution Square", where the crowd of foreign tourists come not just to rub the noses of famous statues of dogs for good luck, but also to see the objects of underground architecture.

The economic effect of visa liberalization is clearly visible on the example of South Korea. At the end of 2014, when tourist visas were canceled, the flow of travelers to Russia from this country increased by 58%, in 2015 by another 41%, Rosstat data show. This year the issue of partial abolition of visas, including the citizens of Iran, filing of entrance permissions in electronic form and free transit were discussed at least twice. Tour operators sent their proposals both to the Foreign Ministry and the government. But the chances of are dim. The informed source of 'Kommersant" explained that the issue of abolition of visas in any case is decided on the basis of the recommendations of the Federal Security Service, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is only a performer. At the same time the federal government did not like the fact that the contribution of the tourism sector in the GDP is barely noticeable: only 1.6%, while worldwide the figure is an average of 10%. In November, Vladimir Putin pointed to the imbalance, but did not give specific instructions to the FSB.

Meanwhile, in the global tourism industry Russia is no terra incognita. In November, Moscow, according to Lonely Planet, first entered the top ten places to travel in 2017. Russia took the eighth place in the top 10 most attractive areas for low-end tourism. The analysts of GfK increased tourist brand Russia from 26th place to 23th in the index of national brands Anholt-GfK.

However, 2016 could be the last positive year for the sector. Russian tourism industry not only failed to have visa exemptions, but risks losing the last chance to attract a huge number of tourists. Devalued ruble attracting foreign tourists to Russia started to strengthen after the stabilization in oil prices (in 2016 the national currency gained 15% against the dollar). Hoteliers in anticipation of an influx of visitors during the upcoming football matches in the Confederation Cup has announced the increase of the cost of accommodation for groups of tourists for summer 2017. The average cost of tours to Russia for foreigners on this background will grow by a third: from € 1 thousand to € 1,3 thousand, as earlier predicted Tari Tour. 

In 2017, the situation might be not rosy also for the growing for two consecutive years domestic tourism market. The tour operators started to talk about its imminent stagnation back in summer, this opinion is now shared by officials. "Some tourists will leave for Turkey during the next season," - said in November the vice-mayor of Sochi Oleg Yasiuk. The moratorium on travel to popular foreign resorts among Russians had to contribute to the growth of domestic tourism. But in Turkey the ban has been lifted, and the conditions for the resumption of direct air links with Egypt have been articulared.

According to "Onlayntur" only 25% of tourists shifted to domestic resorts. The reason is the lack of necessary infrastructure, tour operators say. Gradually, the price advantage is also becoming null and void: a holiday in Russia is again more expensive than in foreign resorts. For operators, it is already clear that the future of summer accommodation in the five-stars hotels in Turkey is cheaper than four-stars hotels in Sochi. I have already decided for myself to travel around the countries, where tourists are rare, to see firsthand what the Russia's tourism industry can expect this year.