Skift Take

Tourism to Russia has taken an enormous hit since the country's invasion of Ukraine. An economy hurt by sanctions doesn't help in its pitch to travelers either. But Russia sees opportunities with India's outbound travelers.

As Russia engages in the worst fighting in Europe since World War II with Ukraine, tourism is one of the worst hit sectors for the country, especially at a time when destinations are charting their way towards recovery post the Covid crisis.

Travel to and from Russia continues to be hit by sanctions, as a result the destination is aggressively wooing travelers from what it deems as more “friendly countries” and India seems to be high on the list.

At the recently-held Outbound Travel Mart (OTM) in Mumbai, one of the largest travel trade events in India, the Russian contingent descended in full force as it made a strong bid to sell the destination to Indian travelers.

Representatives from the city of Moscow City Tourism Committee and Saint Petersburg Convention Bureau addressed the media and spoke about the “abundant tourism opportunities” that the destinations offer for Indian travelers.

Strangely, Russia, a very important tourist destination, does not have a national tourism organization with their office in India, noted Mahendra Vakharia, managing director of India-based Pathfinders Holidays.

However Vakharia noted that St. Petersburg Tourism and Moscow City Tourism Committee have individually done more than their bit since the last few months and have been aggressively engaging with the travel trade through roadshows, presentations, seminars and workshops.

Russia also plans to launch electronic visa for 52 countries, including India — a resolution that had been passed in 2020, but had been stalled due to the Covid restrictions.

What’s more, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a visa-free entry between Russia and India this month, during his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan.

The easing of visa regulations would certainly be an incentive, especially as the wait for visas keeps getting longer for Indian passport holders, with the waiting time for a U.S. visa appointment going up to two years.

Calling Russia a popular destination for all types of Indian travelers — leisure, groups, students as well as meetings, incentives, conferences and events, Pathfinders Holidays’ Vakharia noted that enquiries have been pouring in from Indian travelers. “The inclination is there to travel, but the uncertainty of war is holding them back.”

While St. Petersburg noted a drop of 72 percent in tourism during the pandemic, Kuzenskaya Julia, deputy chairperson of the city’s committee for tourism development, said they’ve noted that Indians are increasingly keen to visit the destination.

“We are working to unlock the full tourism potential of Russia to help increase footfalls from India. Our main focus is on group tourism as well as the meetings, incentives, conferences and events sector,” Julia said while speaking in Mumbai.

And even as Russia continues its offensive against Ukraine, Julia assured that tourists are under no threat in the country and that “everything is peaceful.”

Asian destinations would be a huge area of focus for the tourism boards as these markets provide huge potential to improve Russia’s tourism numbers.

In 2021, inbound travel from India to Moscow recovered by 40 percent compared to 2019, according to the Federal Agency for Tourism.

Outside nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Turkey, Germany and India are reportedly the top three key markets for inbound arrivals into Moscow, according to Alina Arutyunova, deputy chairperson of Moscow city tourism committee.

Encouraging individual tourists from India to visit Moscow, Arutyunova said this is the right time for Russia and India to strengthen their ties.

“In Moscow, things are normal, it is safe for tourists. In fact, travel to Russia is safe,” she said, adding that the city received 50,000 Indian tourists in 2021, while the tourism receipts from India for the first half of 2022 has been 13,300 tourists. 

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Tags: asia monthly, coronavirus recovery, india outbound, moscow, Russia war, Ukraine War, visa

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