The number of outbound tourists from Russia increased by 20-25 per cent in 2012 and is expected to reach approximately 11 million organised tourists (i.e. those who purchased package tours from operators), cites Russia Beyond the Headlines Internet-magazine the words of Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR).
Another figure even better puts this in perspective. In 2012 1,030,000 tourist visas were issued by the Consulate General of Finland in St Petersburg. There are 5,000,000 residents in the city, which suggests that at the very least 20% of citizens were granted the right to travel in all European countries within the Schengen zone for up to a year.
Same visa requirements for all Schengen countries have been introduced from 13th January, 2013, meaning that it will be significantly easier for Russians from other regions to get to Europe too. With top-level official talks about introducing visa-free regime between Russian and the EU coming to their culmination we can hope that this will boost the travel enormously. We can only hope that the UK government will follow the trend set by their European colleagues.
From March 2013 EasyJet will do two daily flights between London Gatwick and Moscow. It is not going to be at their lowest price, but at £120 for the return journey they are going to change who will be the average Russian coming to London. Ryanair is now applying for the license to fly between Dublin and Moscow, and the chances are quite high that the license will be granted as they are the only Irish company to apply for this route. Both companies claim that they won’t stop on flights to the Russian capital, but will also go into regions. The Russian Aeroflot had to issue a statement that they would also introduce their own low-coster within a year. They actually might come to regions even quicker due to their strong position on the Russian market.
During the 2012 New Year and Christmas festive period Internet-shops outside Russia sent to the country more than 21.6mn parcels which is twice as much as last year, with the Post of Russia handling 150 tones of parcels daily (up from usual 60-70 tones). Ecommerce in Russia is growing at one of the fastest rates in the world, and while the local companies set up and start marketing themselves, Russians look for purchases abroad and arrange various routes to have them sent to their homes in Russia.
So be prepared to serve growing Russian middle class not only in Russia, but when they come to you.
First published in the Russia Local Ltd monthly newsletter in January 2013.