The European Union (EU) has developed a series of restrictions on Russians traveling to its territory after the invasion of Ukraine, and some countries, notably Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland and the Czech Republic, impose a total ban. The restrictions have opened up new markets around the world for Russia’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry.
Known for its combination of tropical beaches, lush rice paddies and volcanic mountains, Bali is a renowned tourist paradise that attracts visitors from all over the world.
But last year, the Indian Ocean island began to see a rise in a certain type of traveller: Some 58,000 Russians had traveled to Bali by the end of the year.
In January 2023 alone, the number of visitors from Russia increased to 22,500, according to Indonesian government data, making Russians the second largest visitor group after Australians.
In another tourist hotspot on the other side of the world, the numbers tell a different story. So far this year, “Paris had 95.8% fewer Russian tourists arriving by air between January and May [en comparacion con 2019]”, said a spokesman for the Paris tourist office.
In the summer months, Russian arrivals in the French capital, one of the most visited cities in Europe, are expected to increase by less than 1%.
Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022, it has become much more difficult for Russians to travel to popular EU holiday destinations.
Getting travel visas approved is more expensive and less easy, Russian airlines have been banned from flying into or over European territory, and Russian oligarchs can no longer land their planes in some places.
There is also the prospect of a hostile welcome for Russian tourists; Just over a year after the invasion of Ukraine, the public perception of Russia in EU countries is largely that of “an adversary,” according to a multinational survey conducted in January.
Yet millions of Russians continue to travel abroad. Tourists of that nationality made some 22.5 million trips abroad in 2022, compared to 19.2 million in 2021, with Turkey as the main destination.
And Russian tourists are now making their way to non-Western destinations in record numbers instead of Europe.
Among the nations that have experienced the biggest boom in Russian visitors are Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, the Maldives and Egypt.
Thailand, in particular, is poised to “significantly benefit from the EU travel ban on Russia as the market is forced to change its preferred destinations,” according to a report by business intelligence provider GlobalData.
Russia ranked 14th in international tourism with spending around $11.4 billion in 2021, according to ‘Statista’.
And countries around the world are eager to claim a piece of that market. Sri Lanka, Morocco and Thailand plan to open direct flight routes with Russia to facilitate travel, while India, Myanmar and Oman recently held talks with Russia to discuss increased tourism.
Iran signed an agreement with Russia on May 19 to boost mutual tourism cooperation, a few days after Cuba signed a tourism development agreement with the aim of increasing the number of Russian visitors to 500,000 a year.
For some countries, boosting Russian tourism is a way to help balance economic ties with Russia. Turkey is one of the world’s largest consumers of Russian energy and its tourism industry is highly dependent on Russian tourists.
Its tourism sector has not been significantly affected by the war in Ukraine. “He didn’t impose sanctions on Russia, so it has become the number one destination for Russian tourists,” says Faruk Balli, a professor at Massey University’s School of Economics and Finance in New Zealand.
But in Cyprus and Greece, the lack of Russian tourists, who often account for a large percentage of total visitors, affected the economy and led to a rethinking of tourism models.
Attracting tourists despite sanctions
Some 4.6 million Russians visited Turkey in 2022, more than any other foreign country. But not just a holiday destination, with Russians no longer able to fly directly into the EU, Istanbul has become a key stopover for tourists and business travelers en route to Europe.
Although fewer Russian travelers visit EU countries, the impact is not felt too much in Paris. “Russian visitors typically make up one percent of all tourists,” said a spokesman for the Paris tourist office.
The greatest losses can be felt in Russia itself. The number of foreign visitors to Russia fell 96.1% in 2022 compared to pre-Covid figures in 2019, according to the Russian Association of Tour Operators.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, the demand for trips to Russia has decreased among tourists from the United States and the EU. Western sanctions have also complicated travel to Russia due to flight restrictions and the inability to use Visa and Mastercard cards issued by foreign banks.
The Russian government is promoting domestic tourism to revitalize the sector, while intensifying efforts to attract international visitors.
Plans are underway to coordinate the Russian ‘Mir’ payment system and exempt visitors from some Arab and Latin American countries from visa requirements.
The return of Chinese tour groups in February 2023, after pandemic travel restrictions were lifted, is also being touted as a sign that Russia remains a thriving tourist destination.
Russian state media reported that the number of Chinese visitors to Russia could return to pre-pandemic levels within three years.
Source: France 24