Russia is experiencing a sports tourism boom as soccer fans flood in to support their teams competing in the Football World Cup. According to the latest figures from ForwardKeys, which predicts future travel patterns by analyzing 17 million booking transactions a day, flight bookings for arrival in Russia for the FIFA World Cup (4th June – 15th July) are currently 50.5% ahead of where they were at this point last year. In addition, many Russians are staying at home for the tournament and are not going on holiday as usual. Outbound bookings from Russia are 12.4% behind.
A notable feature of the booking profile is that the current upsurge has its peak around the opening matches and, as of now, there is a limited advancement in bookings after the group stages of the tournament. However, once the outcome of the group stages become clear, a subsequent surge in bookings is possible for the latter knockout rounds, as fans come back to support their teams.
World Cup ticket holders must obtain a FAN ID, which grants them visa-free entry into Russia between 4th June and 15th July (the date of the final) and requires the holder to have left the country by 25thJuly, presumably allowing anyone coming for the final to remain in Russia and take a holiday afterwards. However, deeper analysis of the booking data, focussing on the number of nights spent in the country, reveals that the average length of stay is 13 nights, but overnight stays fall off to normal levels very sharply after the final. This suggests that whilst fans are planning to use the World Cup as an opportunity to visit Russia, their real interest is in football, much more than it is in Russia. Forward bookings for ‘overnights’ in Russia for the whole visa-free entry period are 39.6% ahead of the equivalent period in 2017.
Whilst one might expect the World Cup to attract football fans following their own teams, an analysis of growth in bookings to Russia during the World Cup period (4th June – 15th July) reveals that there are very substantial uplifts in visitor levels from countries that have not qualified too. Of the countries that have qualified, those with the greatest uplift in number of visitors to Russia are, in order, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, South Korea, Mexico, UK, Germany, Australia, Egypt and Peru. Of those that have not qualified, those with the greatest uplift in number of visitors to Russia are, in order, the USA, China, Hong Kong, Israel, India, UAE, Paraguay, Canada, Turkey and South Africa
It is also apparent that there are other beneficiaries of the mini tourism boom to Russia, for example: Europe’s major airports, as over 40% of visitors during the World Cup will arrive via indirect flights. The list of major hub airports with the greatest number of passengers to Russia, is headed by Dubai, with forward bookings to Russia 202% ahead of the equivalent period last year. It is followed, in order by Paris, whose Russia bookings are 164% ahead, Frankfurt 49% ahead, Amsterdam 92% ahead, London Heathrow 236% ahead, Istanbul 148% ahead, Helsinki 129% ahead, Rome 325% ahead, Munich 60% ahead and Warsaw 71% ahead.