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Some 6,000 Russian tourists remain stranded abroad after travel agencies’ closure

August 08, 2014, 13:16 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The string of bankruptcies on the Russian tourist market started in the middle of July

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MOSCOW, August 08./ITAR-TASS/. Some 6,000 Russian tourists remain stranded abroad following the chain of closures of travel agencies in Russia this summer, an official with the country’s Federal Tourism Agency said on Friday.

Valery Korovkin, the head of the agency’s department for international cooperation, said the tourist assistance fund Turpomoshch (Travel Aid) was actively assisting in bringing home Russian tourists from foreign vacations after their travel agencies suspended operations citing various reasons.

“Some 6,000 Russian nationals, who suffered from travel agencies’ closure this summer, remain abroad,” Korovkin said. “Turpomoshch keeps doing its job and manages effectively enough the return of tourists.”

“The process [of return] is on the rails and keeps progressing. Next week we plan to remove all remaining tourists,” Korovkin said speaking at round table discussions in Russia’s Public Chamber on Friday.

The string of bankruptcies on the Russian tourist market started in the middle of July, when one of the oldest tourist firms - Neva - declared it was no longer able to honor its liabilities to clients. Same reasons were announced during the following closures of travel agencies Roza Vetrov Mir, Expo-Tour, Labirint, IntAer and Nordik Star.

According to Turpomoshch’s earlier voiced estimates, the return of all tourists served by the bankrupt companies could total some $5.6 million.

The first and so far the most sounding closure was travel agency Neva’s suspension of operations last month.

Neva, a St. Petersburg-based veteran travel agency with 24 years of work on the travel market, announced on July 16 that it was winding out its operations over financial problems. The move affected over 17,000 clients of the company.

Neva operated four offices in St. Petersburg and also had an office in Vyborg in the northwestern Leningrad Region, as well as branches in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod, and representative offices in Finland, Spain, Montenegro and Turkey.

Servicing over 300,000 tourists a year, Neva had a network of franchise agencies (over 150 offices) in more than 40 Russian cities, according to information posted on the company’s website.

Investigators from the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office claim that the owners of bankrupt travel agencies were long unable to provide travel services due to huge debts and kept selling vouchers to unsuspecting customers. Some clients who had already paid for the travel services had to cancel their holiday plans, and those already on vacation encountered problems with getting back home.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev instructed the law enforcement agencies to probe into the fraudulent schemes. A special joint working group incorporating officials from all government ministries concerned is expected to present proposals for reforming the industry within two weeks.

The embattled companies are blaming their problems on EU sanctions, currency exchange rate fluctuations and the ban on foreign trips by those employed in the law enforcement. However, experts are saying that the wish to dodge responsibility was behind the bankruptcies of tour operators whose businesses very much resembled financial pyramids.

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