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Russian Tour Operators Losing Chinese Business

Chinese tourists in central St. Petersburg.
Chinese tourists in central St. Petersburg.

Russian tour operators are losing Chinese business even as the number of tourists from the world’s most populous country surges, Kommersant reports.

Chinese operators are selling tour packages to Russia below cost while using black-market tactics to recoup money, the paper said in a detailed investigative piece published November 2.

Chinese operators are offering an eight-day Russia tour with visits to Moscow and St. Petersburg for an average of 30,000 rubles ($475), including flight, hotel, food, and some excursions.

The operators often use the services of unauthorized and unpaid guides, who steer the tourists to stores that service only Chinese groups, the paper reported. The stores, including many jewelry shops, overcharge the Chinese tourists and split the profits with the guide and tour firm.

“Constant damping by the Chinese has led to Russian firms either leaving the [Chinese tourism] market or reselling the group business to unauthorized Chinese firms,” Kommersant cited Alexandr Agamov, director of Russian tour association World Without Borders, as saying.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting Russia has surged over the past four years as the ruble declined in value, reducing the price tag of tour packages, and as more airlines began offering charter flights between the two nations.

About 1.25 million Chinese tourists visited Russia last year compared with 410,000 in 2015, the paper reported. There are now 23 airlines offering flights to Russia from 24 Chinese cities, up from 10 cities in 2015.

Chinese tourists officially spent $264 million over the first three months of the year, according to official Russian state data. The unofficial revenue from Chinese tourists, including black-market transactions, is more than double that number, the paper said, citing experts.

Chinese operators are grabbing more of that business, including even boat trips along the Neva River in St. Petersburg, the paper said.

The rise in Chinese group tourism to Russia has created some friction, the paper said.

Chinese tourists are crowding out Russian visitors at popular locations like the Amber Room inside Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, causing Russia’s deputy cultural minister to speak out about the issue earlier this year.

Chinese tourists account for 30 percent to 70 percent of visitors to the Amber Room during high season, Kommersant said.

Though the number of Chinese tourists is expected to increase in the coming years, Chinese group tourism to Russia is likely to decline as younger people from the country prefer to travel individually, said Elena Trishchenko, who runs a Russian tour firm.

With reporting by Kommersant
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