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MOSCOW, September 13 (Itar-Tass) —— Russian tourists who failed to fly back home from Bulgaria because of a financial dispute between the air carrier and the tour operator have been offered a free vacation in Bulgaria next summer, the Association of Russian Tour Operators said on Tuesday.
Chairman of the Bulgarian Association of Hoteliers and Restaurateurs Blagoi Ragin said they must smooth over the negative emotions of the tourists, so Bulgaria offered the tourists a free weeklong vacation in June 2012.
The last 175 Russian tourists stranded in Bulgaria are waiting for a flight home in Burgas and Varna, Federal Tourism Agency spokesman Oleg Moseyev told Itar-Tass earlier in the day.
“According to the information received an hour ago, the last 175 Russian tourists remain in Varna and Burgas,” he said.
All of them are residents of St. Petersburg and clients of the Alma Tur company, he said.
“The company is so far unable to say what must be done to bring the remaining tourists home,” he added. “The possibility of transportation via Istanbul and Helsinki is being considered. Ideally, it should be one jet only. The Federal Air Transport Service is ready to issue the flight permit, but the financial question pops up,” he said.
“Apart from the tourists, who have been waiting for transportation to the home country for four days, there are about 900 other Russian tourists in Bulgaria. We hope very much that they will return home as planned before the end of September,” Moseyev said.
“If there is a need, the Russian Foreign Ministry will help resolve the problem, which has gone beyond the limits of tourism and acquired a different scale,” he said.
A source at the Russian consulate general in Varna told Itar-Tass with the reference to Alma Tur that some of the Russian tourists took a place to Moscow on Tuesday. The tourists were put on different planes flying from Varna, Burgas and Sofia.
Bulgaria Air blocked charter flights of Russian tourists from Burgas and Varna on Friday and Saturday because of the Alma Tur debts of about $5 million.
Meanwhile, the number of Russian tourists complaining about ruined vacations to the Federal Tourism Agency doubled to 3,500 this year, head of the agency’s legal department Izo Arakhamia said last Friday.
“The Federal Tourism Agency received plenty of complaints from tourists this year,” she said. “More than 3,500 tourists said their vacations were thwarted or ruined. About 80% of the complaints were about inferior services.”
“Most of such tourists said that they paid for a particular hotel to a tour operator in Moscow but were accommodated at an inferior hotel. Some also said they were food poisoned. Some tourists had to leave their hotel in the morning for boarding a plane while they were told earlier that the departure was planned for the evening,” she said.
“No more than 2,000 complaints were filed last year,” Arakhamia said.
In the opinion of experts, the number of tourist complaints increased because of the political instability in Egypt. “The armed clashes in Egypt created problems for tourists. Tour operators refused to pay refunds,” she said.
The total number of Russians who made foreign trips in that period exceeded 18 million, which was 15% more than in January-June 2010, the Association of Russian Tour Operators said earlier.
About 70% of all trips were made to countries outside the former Soviet Union territory, and the rest were made to CIS member states. Over 50% of all trips were made with personal invitations, and slightly more than 30% of all travelers were tourists.
According to the Association, the most popular destinations in the first half of 2011 were Turkey (visited by more than one million Russians) and China (over 600,000 tourists). Egypt ranked third with about 500,000 Russian tourists.
The altered situation in Egypt influenced preferences of Russian tourists, the Association said. “Due to the travel alert for Egypt, many tourism destinations showed unprecedented dynamics. For instance, the number of tourists visiting Cuba doubled to 46,000, while the number of tourists that preferred vacations in the Dominican Republic grew by almost 60% to 52,000,” the Association said.
Meanwhile, the number of foreign tourists in Russia grew in the first half of the year, the Association said. Some 11.5 million citizens of 212 states visited Russia in that period, which was 14% more than last year. Only 7% of the foreign visitors were tourists, the Association said.
It also said that more than 6 million Russian tourists spent vacations abroad in the first half of this year.