The myth of the balalaika: how to develop tourism in Russia?

Russia for tourists

According to statistics, Russia is becoming increasingly attractive for foreign tourists. According to Rosstat, the growth of tourism over the last nine months of 2015 increased by 13.4% — the highest figure since 2008. Half of the incoming flow has provided the citizens of China, Germany, USA, Turkey and the UK.

At OneTwoTrip we also recorded the growth of interest of foreign tourists in January 2016 in comparison with 2015, the demand for trips to Russia from China have increased twice, by 75% increase in the number of bookings from France, 45% — from Italy and Kazakhstan, 25% from Spain and Israel. Plus because of relatively low prices in the currency of Moscow has become an attractive transit point for travel from Asia to Europe and Vice versa.

All this happens against the background of significant decline outbound tourism: the flow of Russians travelling abroad, in the first nine months of 2015 decreased by 31% to 9.99 million, according to the Federal tourism Agency. And according to the Federal air transport Agency, the passenger traffic of Russian carriers on international routes by the end of 2015 decreased by 15.8%, to 39.5 million.

Perhaps, finally came the moment when Russia can become an attractive destination for travelers? Look at what we have and what is missing.

Strengths

To understand them, consider the basic parameters by which tourists usually choose to visit: the convenience of roads, accommodation, prices and availability of services for convenient booking and planning travel.

The first is logistics and air traffic. Between major Russian cities air service is organized well: the airports of Moscow, St. Petersburg and cities accept hundreds of flights daily from all over the world. And the prices are encouraging: according to our data, international flights to Russia or not risen, or have risen marginally, but domestic flights generally fell by 25-30% in comparison with the year 2015.

Train transport is much worse: in Nizhny Novgorod and St Petersburg from Moscow can be reached comfortable and fast “Sapsan”, but two well-established route in the Western part of the country — a drop in the ocean in the nationwide tourism. To the world Cup are going to build a high-speed highway Moscow-Kazan, to repair roads, to improve the airports in the small cities and build new ones. But it will not be ready until 2018, and favourable for tourism the situation is now.

The second point is accommodation, which, in General, not all bad and there is a great progress in the big cities. In Moscow you can stay at the Ritz for 15 000-20 000 rubles per night or in a hostel in the city center for 500-1000 rubles (on average significantly cheaper than in Europe or USA).

The choice of restaurants and cafés with a huge range of prices too great. The system is the same in St. Petersburg, plus tightened Sochi and several million cities, in particular, Yekaterinburg. But many of these cities are already overloaded because of increased domestic tourist flow. In December and January we have recorded a huge demand for tickets and hotels in Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana. According to Rostourism, this year for the holidays Krasnaya Polyana and the city on the Black sea was attended by more than 390 thousand tourists from Russia and from all over the world, but will the city, for example, with a million thread?

The third point — landmarks: in Russia in abundance. Apart from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi have a lot of beautiful cities and unique natural sites — Baikal, Kamchatka, Elbrus, Staraya Russa, Karelia… But most of our resorts while are suitable either for lovers of extreme sports in harsh conditions or on the background of increased domestic tourist traffic, just not able to accept foreign guests.

Fourth, one of the most important tourist settings — the price. This factor also plays in favor of stay in Russia for foreign nationals due to favorable exchange rate. For example, a 10-day trip to Tanzania with Safari and a visit to lake Victoria will cost at least 5000$, including flights. Drive the same 10 days on Baikal will be worth about$ 2000 — this is with flights, accommodation, transfers and tours. Geysers and volcanoes can be found in Iceland for$ 3000, and it is possible in Kamchatka for 1500$.

And finally, the last parameter is the ease of booking. It’s all good: today there are a number of online services for travel planning, allowing you to find the most suitable flights and hotels, buy train tickets or rent a car. And foreign tourists are unlikely to meet on the way a lot of problems.

What are we missing

First, it lacks the simplified visa regime. Now a U.S. citizen for a single entry visa to Russia, which will allow to enter the country for 30 days, must pay $160, great Britain — 50 pounds, China — $50, Italy, Spain and France — 35 euros. These are all countries where people spend lot much money.

In early March, the head of the Federal tourism Agency Oleg Safronov proposed to reduce the cost of a single entry visa to visit Russia in 3-4 times up to 20-30$. In his opinion, this will increase the inbound tourist flow by 20-30%.

In addition, in early March it became known that Russia is negotiating with 40 countries about the visa facilitation and 24 – about the complete abolition of visas. However, the list of countries is publicly available, so making overly optimistic conclusions too early.

The second problem is the lack of promotion of Russia as an attractive tourist country. Many Europeans and Americans lay down their view of our country on the basis of known and not the most pleasant stereotypes. In my opinion, desperately promote Russia as a safe travel destination. Look travel videos of Cyprus and Jordan, which are rotated on the Central Russian channels. Or beautiful promo-video of Georgia who became very successful in network Facebook. The government of Morocco is planning to spend on an advertising campaign $2 million, We also need to act: to remove the rollers, and to show our sights and talk about yourself. To Russia for foreign tourists was not a country of two cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg) and far and scary Siberia.

With the absence of a positive tourist image of the country is closely connected with another problem – the problem of security. Travel to Russia is shrouded in so many myths that neither foreigners nor sometimes even Russians are not sure that travelling to our country secure.

Positive changes is here. At the end of last year opened its first offices Visit Russia project, aimed at national tourism marketing. Already have offices in Berlin, Helsinki and Beijing, Dubai, Rome and Madrid. Hopefully, only the offices in major cities is not limited.

The point of view of the authors, whose article published in the “Opinions” section, may not coincide with editorial opinion.