By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Russia’s tourism industry, both inbound and outbound, is badly hit by the war-ravaged crisis that unfolded in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine in late February. For more than two years, the tourism industry has been affected due to the spread of Covid-19 which has turned the world upside down.
Industry operators say the impact on tourism of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine has pushed the United States and Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries to impose a series of sanctions, which currently affect the smooth operation of a tourist business.
According to statistics, in the past three years, including Covid-19 restrictions and the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, foreign airlines carried around 128.1 million passengers, but most passengers were stranded in due to border closures and repatriated in 2020. As Covid-19 subsided and the latest round of sanctions reduced travel abroad, especially to the United States and Europe for Russians.
Analysts expect tourism activity to grow significantly inside Russia. Russian tourists could instead opt for destinations in South America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa such as Cyprus, Thailand, Turkey, Malta, Maldives, Zanzibar and Egypt. Russian citizens may not be afraid of a sharp rise in airfare prices, because in the coming spring and summer, costs are determined, among other factors, by demand and the power of purchase.
Many Russian tourists are stranded due to economic sanctions, handicapped by bank withdrawals using the international credit card system. Zarina Doguzova of the Russian Federal Tourism Agency told local Russian media that nearly 90,000 tourists had been repatriated in March.
According to the agency, Egypt has the highest number of package tourists from Russia. The repatriation process has been hampered and is taking longer due to new Western sanctions targeting planes that should be used for special flights from Egypt to Russia. Tour operators have struggled to bring Russian package tourists back using different means, including foreign airline connecting flights via third countries from the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, the Maldives and Thailand.
On April 4, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that starting April 9, Russia would lift restrictions on flights to 52 countries imposed due to the pandemic, including Argentina, India, China, South Africa and other friendly countries. It applies to scheduled and charter flights between Russia and several other foreign countries.
It will take into account the epidemiological situation of each country: a previous decision was taken to completely lift restrictions on scheduled and charter flights with Algeria, Argentina, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana , Brazil, Venezuela, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Egypt and Zimbabwe.
The rest includes Israel, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Iraq, Kenya, China, North Korea, Costa Rica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Mauritius, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Mozambique, Moldova, Mongolia, Myanmar, Namibia, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Serbia, Syria, Thailand, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Fiji, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, South Africa and Jamaica.
The protracted war in Ukraine threatens several tourist destinations that rely on Russian visitors. Turkey, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Tajikistan, Armenia, Greece, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Cyprus are among the top 25 countries for outbound Russian tourism in terms of flight capacity, according to Mabrian Technologies, an intelligence platform for the tourism industry.
For example, Egypt’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism from Russia and Ukraine, with these two countries accounting for around a third of all visitors each year. Egypt is working to open up tourism markets, especially for Germany, England, the Czech Republic, Italy and Switzerland, following the lifting of travel restrictions to Egypt.
Thousands of Russian tourists visit Thai resorts. The Russian-Ukrainian crisis with Europe could further push Russian tourists to popular destinations in Asia and a few destinations in Africa. Although Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, not all of these countries are considered popular destinations for Russian tourists. Russia seeks to develop and promote domestic tourism.
According to statistics, Russian tourists have spent more than 300 billion dollars abroad over the past 20 years, and their money could build national tourism infrastructure. Experts also say that Russia’s tourism infrastructure has seen some growth over the past year, and it’s important not to lose that momentum under the current circumstances in the world.
The Federal Tourism Agency, which promotes domestic and foreign tours, highlighted the steps taken by the Russian government to put tourism on the right track, including offers of subsidies for local destinations, an effort to encourage and promote domestic tourism, which is safe and provides comfortable conditions for Russian tourists, in the coming seasons.
The Russian government’s latest package of measures to support the economy in the face of sanctions will affect the tourism industry and a number of other sectors, and it includes tax incentives, the council’s vice president said this month. of the Federation, Nikolai Zhuravlev.
According to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), outbound tourism will steadily pick up despite the current international situation and the rising dollar and euro exchange rates, and the declining share of foreign tours in the volume of sales in February and March, during the months of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.
Russia’s membership has been withdrawn from international organizations, the latest being the United Nations Human Rights Council. On March 8, the Executive Council proposed the holding of an extraordinary assembly to consider a possible suspension of Russia’s membership in the United Nations World Tourism Organization.