Russia Looks to India to Fill Tourism Void

take skift

Tourism to Russia has taken a huge hit since the country was invaded in Ukraine. An economy battered by sanctions isn’t helping travelers either. But Russia sees opportunities in India’s outbound travelers.

Peden Doma Bhutia

With Russia locked in Europe’s worst fighting since World War II with Ukraine, tourism is one of the hardest-hit sectors for the country, especially at a time when destinations are making their way to recovery from the Covid crisis.

Travel to and from Russia continues to be plagued by sanctions, so the destination is aggressively touting travelers from “friendlier countries,” and India appears to be high on the list.

At the recent Outbound Travel Mart (OTM) in Mumbai, one of the largest travel industry events in India, the Russian contingent came in full force as it made a strong bid to sell the destination to Indian travelers.

Addressing the media, officials from the Moscow City Tourism Committee and the Saint Petersburg Convention Bureau spoke about the “abundant tourism opportunities” that the destinations offer to Indian travelers.

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Curiously, Russia, a very important tourist destination, doesn’t have a national tourism organization with an office in India, noted Mahendra Vakharia, managing director of India-based Pathfinders Holidays.

However, Vakharia noted that for the past several months, St. Petersburg Tourism and the Moscow City Tourism Committee have been individually doing more than their share, aggressively engaging with the travel industry through roadshows, presentations, seminars and workshops.

Russia also plans to roll out e-visas to 52 countries including India – a resolution that had passed in 2020 but stalled due to Covid restrictions.

In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed visa-free travel between Russia and India during his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan this month.

The relaxation of visa requirements would certainly be an incentive, especially as visa waits for Indian passport holders are increasing and the waiting time for an appointment for a US visa is up to two years.

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Pathfinders Holidays’ Vakharia named Russia a popular destination for all types of Indian travelers – holidaymakers, groups, students as well as meetings, incentives, conferences and events – noting inquiries from Indian travelers are pouring in. “The desire to travel is there, but the uncertainty of war is holding it back.”

While St. Petersburg has seen a 72 percent drop in tourism during the pandemic, Kuzenskaya Julia, deputy chair of the city’s tourism development committee, said she’s noticed Indians are increasingly keen to visit the destination.

“We are working to unlock Russia’s full tourism potential to increase visitor numbers from India. Our main focus is group tourism, meetings, incentives, conferences and events,” said Julia during a speech in Mumbai.

And even as Russia continues its offensive against Ukraine, Julia assured that tourists in the country are not a threat and “everything is peaceful”.

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Asian destinations would be a major focus area for tourism authorities as these markets offer huge potential to boost Russia’s tourism numbers.

In 2021, domestic travel from India to Moscow recovered by 40 percent compared to 2019, according to the Federal Tourism Agency.

Countries outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Turkey, Germany and India are reportedly the top three markets for people entering Moscow, according to Alina Arutyunova, deputy chair of the Moscow City Tourism Committee.

Encouraging individual tourists from India to visit Moscow, Arutyunova said this is the right time for Russia and India to strengthen ties.

“Everything is normal in Moscow, it is safe for tourists. In fact, travel to Russia is safe,” she said, adding that the city received 50,000 Indian tourists in 2021, while tourism revenue from India stood at 13,300 tourists in the first half of 2022.