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Russia: Tourism Increase Boosts Ranking As European Destination

Prague, 16 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- New travel forecasts predict a surprising newcomer, Russia, to join the list of popular European tourist destinations, currently topped by France and Spain.

RFE/RL reports that new travel forecasts by the leading independent global consumer market analyst, Euromonitor, indicate that the number of people vacationing in the Russian Federation will double by 2002 -- making it the third most popular tourist destination in Europe. According to Euromonitor's latest market study, tourism arrivals in Russia could account for as much as about $46 million in 2002, up 109.9 percent on 1997 and compared to just six million in 1993.

Despite its lack of high-quality facilities, high crime rates and bureaucratic visa requirements, Euromonitor says the Russian Federation has been the fastest growing major tourism market.

But not everyone is convinced.

RFE/RL spoke with Peter Shackelford, who oversees Central and Eastern European tourism for the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in Madrid.

"From the figures we've seen, it would be a very big leap for Russia to suddenly be in third place after France and Spain. In other words, it would be replacing Italy, and so I think we'd need a little more explanation about that figure. I mean, its not impossible, but by the year 2002 it would be a bit surprising."

Colin Reeves, the vice president and general manager for Central and Eastern Europe, Mediterranean & African tourism for American Express, was equally reserved about the forecast of a tourist rush to Russia. Still, Reeves said he could foresee the potential for "phenomenal" growth in business travel there.

"The issue with business in Russia is that long-term it is like China -- a major market -- and if you want to be a player, you've got to be there. And therefore, in many parts of Russia there are many people who have been camping out, if you'll excuse the expression, waiting for contracts. It's a major industry -- mining, Gold, oil, petrol, etc.. so the business side will expand very fast. (on the) Tourism side I just don't see it.... I don't believe there is the communication's environment -- structural communication structure -- to provide for it. There's also not the entry structure to provide for it -- getting visas is not easy. You'd have to break down a lot of barriers before people go there and, by the way, the prices are just too high."

Reeves says leisure tourists to Russia rely heavily on package tours that center on St. Petersburg and Moscow, although numbers are few compared to Russia's size. And he points out that under the circumstances, these are often only "one-time" trips.

But Shackelford of the WTO adds that the bid to lure the repeat traveler back to Russia is already underway.

"In a sense, one of the tasks the Russian Federation faces is to create from its immense variety of cultural heritage, and natural heritage, products that will attract people back for repeat visits. That is the sort of thing the Moscow International Tourism Fair is concentrating on. We have participated in that fair the last few year. We are also working at the moment with the U.N. development agency to try and facilitate the development of new tourist products in all parts of Russia. And I am hopeful we can get some small projects going toward the end of the year."

In it's report, entitled "European Tourism," Euromonitor also reported that Russians are fast joining the ranks of the most-traveled nations, as well. It said departures from the country were up 94 percent in five years to 1997.

But according to latest figures, Germans held onto the lead of Europe's "keenest travelers."

Elsewhere, industry monitors Shackelford and Reeves agree Croatia will see a surge in arrivals. Market analysis by Euromonitor attributes the gain to the reconstruction of the country's tourism industry after the Bosnian war and to the sudden increase in traffic between former Yugoslav states. According to EuroMonitor, Croatia could enjoy growth in arrivals of 215 percent -- the highest growth rate in Europe -- over the next five years.