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MOSCOW, February 25. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia’s tourist market showed phenomenal growth last year, despite the negative trends in the overall economic situation in the country. However, the 2014 holiday season may prove utter failure at tourist destinations most popular with Russian holiday-makers - the Crimea, Egypt and Thailand.
Aggregate statistics made public by the tourist agency Rosturizm, the Border Guard Service, the Federal Migration Service and the Association of Tourist Operators of Russia (ATOR) quoted by Ekspert (Expert) magazine indicate that 2013 saw major growth in outbound tourism quantitatively (by 24% to nearly 15 million), and in monetary terms (by 18%). Of the 54 countries that receive Russian tourists, only two showed downward trends - China and Israel. The record holders are Finland and Greece, which saw 82% and 68% rises in tourist flows respectively. According to the World Tourist Organization, Russia’s outbound tourism, in means of spending, was surpassed only by China.
Rosturizm spokeswoman Irina Shchegolkova has said only 10-15% of Russians have foreign travel passports. However, those in the habit of travelling have begun to make trips abroad not once a year, but far more often - twice or even three times. “Russia is a country with a cold climate, so it is only good to travel to a warm sea more often. Besides, ‘travelling’ is gradually becoming one of the key items of a household budget,” she said.
Some specialists have attributed the phenomenon of the growing market to imbalances in the competition environment, which have made dumping policies more frequent. Last summer it became quite clear that to keep up the flow of travellers and to compete, prices will have to be lowered. Tours to Greece, Spain, Egypt, Bulgaria and Cyprus were available at incredibly low prices. As the competition among operators and destinations soared, prices slumped, and the flow of travellers expanded.
Also, there was an external factor at work - a considerable easing in visa requirements for Russian citizens introduced by a number of countries. Greece and Finland offered the most comfortable terms possible in the European Union, so the demand for trips to those countries this year was growing at a fantastic pace. Market participants confirm that the visa factor was of key importance to the holiday-makers’ consumer preferences.
Tour operators fear that the situations in the countries that are most popular with Russian vacationers may cast a shadow on the 2014 holiday season. Risks for tourists are soaring in three regions - Ukraine’s Crimea, Egypt and Thailand. None of the Russian tourists have been harmed at any resort centers there so far, but the alarming news pouring in is capable of scaring away many potential guests.
Last Sunday, civilians in Thailand came under fire and one eight-year-old girl was killed and about 30 other people injured. It is noteworthy that shootouts have occurred not only in the capital, which has long been declared a no-go zone, but in other parts of the country as well.
So far no children have died in fire exchanges in Ukraine. But it is already clear that transiting that country in 2014 will be far more risky that it was last year. To get to the Crimea, the motorists will have to drive all the way across Ukraine. In the Crimea, too, the situation is rather strained.
The situation in the Russians’ most-favored beach tourism country - Egypt - is still worse. An explosion in the city of Taba, the Sinai Peninsula, on February 16, left four dead. After the explosion, the Egyptian terrorists put forward an ultimatum - all foreign tourists should leave the country by February 20.
There is no panic amid the vacationers in Egypt at the moment, and none of the Russians there hurries to leave. However, those who are still making their holiday plans have stopped to think. The executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, Maya Lomidze, is quoted by the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying, there are about 70,000 Russian tourists at the moment, and none of them has hurried to cut short the holiday yet.
Whatever the case, the list of those eager to travel to Egypt in the near future has shrunk over the past few days. Bookings have slumped by 80%. Also, pre-paid tours have been annulled more often.
At a recent meeting with Egypt’s First Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the number of Russian tourists in Egypt has reduced by one million last year. “Over the last year, we had one million less tourists going to Egypt. Before, there had been 2.3-2.4 million, and last year, 1.5 million, he said.
In the meantime, Russian tour operators have been trying to find a way to compensate for the decline in outbound tourism by promoting domestic travel. Last year the growth of the internal tourist flow ranged 6% to 8%. Most tourists in 2013 visited Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Krasnodar Territory (71% increase). The latter destination’s popularity soared in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics.
Tour operators are hoping that the interest in Sochi after the Olympics and the emergence of newly-built tourist infrastructures there will compensate for the fall in Russians’ trips abroad.
The growth of the tourist flow to Sochi this summer season may be up 30%, says the deputy general director of the Rosyugkurort association of sanatoriums and resorts, Valery Sychev. The Sochi authorities say that a total of 3.8 million tourists, both organized and unorganized, spent holidays at the resort last year.
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