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2018 FIFA World Cup fans: How Russian cities will roll out the welcome wagon

December 04, 19:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Excursions around St. Petersburg, for instance, will be available in 25 languages

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© Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS

MOSCOW, December 4. /TASS/. The 11 host cities of the 2018 FIFA World Cup are developing tourist programs for football fans who will come to support their national teams between June 14 and July 15.

Oleg Safronov, the head of the Russian Tourism Agency, said earlier that fans will be offered an interesting program to acquaint them with Russian culture, history and cuisine between football matches to be held at 12 stadiums located in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Samara.

Sergei Shpilko, the president of the Russian Union of Tourism Industry, told TASS that different groups of fans needed a special approach.

"Average tourists do not exist in real life. In real life they are different people and we should create different conditions for them," he said.

Igor Babaryko, the executive head of Russia Unites club of football fans, said the World Cup guests can be divided into three categories.

"The first category are these people who see the tournament as an opportunity to visit the country. They often travel with families and friends and give much attention to safety. They account for 25-30% of fans," Babaryko said.

"The second category are top managers of companies who see the World Cup as an opportunity to build business contacts. I assume, they will account for 18-20% of the tournament’s guests," he said.

The largest group (some 50%) are fans who follow their national teams across the globe.

"They will come to support their teams and comfort is less important for them. These people will be interested in all activities linked to football," Babaryko said.

Nana Gvichiya, a deputy head of the St. Petersburg committee for tourism development, said fans who come to the city are more interested in popular excursions, night cruises and gastronomy tours than in special football routes.

"This fact was proved by the 2017 Confederations Cup," she said. "We created several football routes for this event and they were quite popular. But still most football fans are people who come to St. Petersburg for the first time."

Tourism managers in Yekaterinburg, the only Urals city to host the World Cup matches, forecast that fans will stay there for a short time.

"I am convinced that most tourists will come from neighboring regions to feel the atmosphere of the tournament," said Elmira Tukanova, the head of the regional tourism development center.

According to her, only 30% of fans will come to the city from abroad.

She said the local tour companies will offer them short excursions and local cuisine tastings.

Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan region, is also expecting the surge of the tourist flow. The city’s guests will be offered gastronomy tours and trips to Kazan’s neighborhoods.

"We have already tested several tour packages, including gastronomy trips," said Sergei Ivanov, head of Tatarstan’s tourism committee.

The Nizhny Novgorod Region will offer luxury tours and excursions around the city’s main tourist sites. The city’s central square will host FIFAFanFest, a festival of football fans.

Saransk, the capital of Mordovia region, will take its guests on walking tours around the city’s center, including the Millennium square with its large music fountain.

"We believe that most fans are middle-aged men who are hardly interested in classical excursions and visits to museums," said Marina Zhulina, Mordovia’s deputy culture minister.

They will be invited to taste Mordovian pancakes, take part in sports competitions and learn to sing Russian folk songs.

Samara will offer cruises on the Volga River and visits to Josef Stalin’s bunker and the famous Zhiguli brewery, a must-see attraction for all fans, said Mikhail Maltsev, the acting head of the regional tourism department.

Volgograd, another host city on the Volga River, has prepared more than 100 excursions for football fans.

"The most popular are Volga cruises, fishing tours, local beer tastings and Russian parties," said Sergei Shumikhin, a local culture official.

He said Volgograd restaurants will treat their clients with pike cutlets, sturgeons and homemade cheeses.

Rostov-on-Don will offer visits to the local hippodrome, zoo and winery.

Sochi, a popular Black Sea resort which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, will not have to invent a special program for the 2018 World Cup. Fans who will come to the city for a long time will be able to visit all the climatic zones of the region from subtropics to Alpine meadows.

Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost region on the Baltic Sea, intends to extend the working hours of its museums until 6 a.m. during the World Cup.

"I think excursions will be most popular due to the city’s rich history," said Marina Drutman, head of the local Baltma Tours company. "However, the city is located on the sea coast, and many people will go to beaches."

Open-air movie theaters will be working at the Immanuel Kant, and local tour companies will take their clients on beer tours of the city’s restaurants and "Mystical Koenigsberg" night excursions.

Many tourism companies are fearing that the language barrier will be the main problem for foreign fans in Russia.

"Many Kaliningrad residents speak English and German but a few of them speak Spanish," Drutman said.

Igor Babaryko, the executive head of Russia Unites club of football fans, also acknowledged the problem with the Spanish language, as well as with French and German.

Kazan is currently training tour guides who can speak English, Chinese, Arabic, German and Spanish.

Excursions around St. Petersburg will be available in 25 languages.

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