Tourism both in and out of Russia hit hard by crisis


Tourism both in and out of Russia is being hit hard by the economic crisis this year, but the situation offers holidaymakers more chances to pick up a bargain, say tour operators.

A key indicator for tourism, the passenger flow at airports, shows a depressing picture for the industry. Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, for example, has seen 10.3 per cent fewer passengers compared to last year, while the situation in regional airports is even worse.

And across the country, international flights over the first seven months of the year were 16.5 per cent down compared to the same period last year, while domestic flights were down 17.3 per cent. Changes in seat occupancy were minimal, however – airlines cut back on flights to keep seat occupancy above 70 per cent.

Industry players insist, however, that things aren’t as bad as they feared, as discounts by hotels have cut the costs for tourists.

“Earlier this year, the mood in the industry was disturbed and even apocalyptic,” said Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Russian Tour Operators Association.

Hotels had lowered their prices by 30 per cent or 40 per cent, she said.

“Prices in tours to popular destinations fell by an average of 15 per cent to 20 per cent. Although the price drop was not very significant in roubles, these prices still proved attractive for Russian holidaymakers,” she said.

To cope with falling demand, agencies began offering special discounts and throwing in free extra nights for those who booked early. This tendency looks as if it will continue for the winter vacation season as well, Lomidze said.

The number of tourists coming to Russia has also fallen off, with 15 per cent fewer tourists coming to the country, the Russian Tourism Union said recently.

According to the State Statistics Service, there were 136,000 fewer visitors in the first half of 2009, compared to the same period last year. In some parts of the country, the fall-off has been as much as 25 to 30 per cent.

However, some of these “tourists” are from the Baltic states and Turkey, who are often businessmen travelling on tourist visas.

Cruises to St. Petersburg are among the worst-hit areas for tourists coming to Russia, with numbers falling as much as 30 per cent, while the number of Japanese tourists has been hit by concerns over swine flu.

Despite lagging figures from most European countries, there was a sudden spike in visitors from Israel (up 20.5 per cent), as Russia and Israel recently scrapped visa requirements in a bilateral deal.

For Russians holidaying abroad, package tours to Turkey and Egypt remain the most popular options – partly because it is easier to get a visa for those countries.

Such trips in late September were being offered from $400 per week at one Russian travel agency, and another agency had similar offers starting from $360.

For those on a tight budget, early booking is a money saver. Already, there are early booking discounts for ski vacations this winter, if you look hard enough.

“The important thing is to keep carefully checking the websites of various agencies for information about discounts and good offers,” Lomidze said.