Thursday, 10 June 2010

Tourists head back to Moscow

Tourists are heading back to Moscow according to the city’s officials – but not everyone is convinced.

Figures released by Moscow’s Committee for Tourism suggest as many as 4.1 million guests could come to the city this year – a 2-3 per cent increase on pre-crisis levels.

But in the industry many feel that there is plenty to do before Russian tourism can catch up with other countries.

Neil McGowan, of tour operator “The Russia Experience”, urged Russia to look at neighbouring Estonia and Ukraine if it really wanted to cash in on the tourist dollar.

“Russia is still locked into believing that Lord & Lady Westerner live in a 52-bedroom mansion with indentured servants and will only venture abroad if they can stay at the Hôtel de Swank with a flat-screen dvd-player in the Jacuzzi,” he told The Moscow News. “More hotels are needed, especially in the two and three star sector.

“They really need to look next door to Tallinn where Russia is being trumped mercilessly on UK-originating tourism.

“I wish Russia would wake up to the foreign revenue potential of incoming tourism, but they seem unbothered by it – it’s the Old Kent Road of the monopoly board here, but a few simple tweaks could turn that around and cost nothing.

“Copying the Ukrainian policy on a no-visa-policy for trips up to 3-4 weeks would be a sea-change, and they can do it - they already allow cruise passengers into St. Petersburg (only) visa-free for 48 hours.”

Polina Frolova, of IFK Hotel Management, suggested that Moscow’s main focus remained business travel, despite the success of recent large-scale events such as the 2008 UEFA Champions League final and the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest.

“I have to say Moscow isn’t, and never has been a tourist city – despite the fact that there are so many things to see here,” she said. “Neither Eurovision nor the Champions League had a noticeable effect on the flow of tourists. Several thousand of people from abroad come to Moscow for a few days for a huge event but that’s only small percentage of our total visitor numbers.

“I’m sure that tourism will increase when visa legislation becomes easier for visitors to negotiate, but first of all Moscow is a city of business travel.”

She attributed more visitors to a gradual improvement in the global business climate rather than any tourist attractions.

Grigory Antyufeyev, of Moscow’s Tourism Committee, said that the bulk of the city’s tourist trade came from western Europe and the USA, though China had recently joined the “top seven” nations.

He advised a traditional tour of the city for foreign visitors: “I think the old routes are the best ones: the Church of Christ the Saviour, Tsaritsyno Park, the Kremlin. Moscow has an enormous number of sites,” he said, while also picking out the unique charms of the Luzhniki sports complex as an alternative.

And he added that despite the terrorist attacks earlier this year, there was no underlying threat to visitors.

“That phenomenon was temporary and now the numbers are increasing,” he added.

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