The changing face of Moscow tourism


Anyone who has waded through crowds of eager tourists, jam-packed onto Red Square, will see that Moscow’s efforts to attract more photo-snapping visitors is paying off. In fact, 4,012,000 tourists reportedly visited the Russian capital last year – a 7.5 percent increase on 2006’s 3,732,000. Moscow’s combination of individuality, modern facilities and Russian soul is proving popular with Germans, Americans, Chinese and Brits.

“The tourist industry in Moscow is steadily bringing in 7 percent of the city’s budget, and creates new jobs, constantly updates the city’s infrastructure, and contributes to building new hotels and accommodation,” The Komitet po Turizmy Goroda Moskvy (“Committee for Tourism of Moscow City”) announced.

The benefits clearly work two ways, as Moscow’s exotic and remote reputation continues to fascinate and offer layers of cultural diversity and entertainment for a truly rewarding holiday. “Moscow is a great city, and I did love it. It has enough of the recognizable to feel familiar, yet also a good dollop of mystery and ‘otherness’ that sets Russia apart from western Europe” one blogger enthused.

Muscovites can be less than eager to open up, but many find that after a little bit of work the rewards speak for themselves: “Moscow’s inhabitants are jocular, witty, superstitious and generous. Immensely generous.”

Nevertheless, the stereotypical reputation as the “evil empire” still lingers, and the Komitet must work to overcome the stories of rude waiters and grinding bureaucracy.

One tourist, Rob, from the United States, arrived in the Russian capital with an open mind, but found that some of Moscow’s less than favorable reputation were deserved.

“It was surprisingly less friendly than Beijing, where I spent a summer, or even Vietnam, where I visited briefly. I assumed that most of the cold and bureaucratic aspects that the post-Soviet regime was famous for would have warmed up,” he told The Moscow News.

One persistent headache for the Komitet is the lack of affordable accommodation. The city has 219 hotels, accommodations for just a fraction of the tourists. Although most of these (44 percent) are 3-star accommodations and supposedly affordable there are demonstrably not enough of them and they often lack the quirky charm that many seek in the Russian capital. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov chairs a special committee to construct more such facilities, and another 28 are planned for this year.

Despite limited accommodation, and mixed perceptions, Moscow can still draw upon its ‘difference’ and its continual ability to challenge expectations and assumptions, as German tourist Alex told The Moscow News.

“I thought of Moscow as a quiet, old city. But I was surprised; it was like New York, always very busy.” He continued, “And the distances in Russia are huge, not like in Europe. It was interesting to arrive by car as you could see the gradual change from Europe to Russia. And as you approached Moscow everything changed again.”