Incoming Tourism Grows, New Players Enter Market
Published: December 12, 2012 (Issue # 1739)
Incoming tourism to St. Petersburg has grown by 3.2 percent this year, with 5.7 million tourists having visited the city, the northwest office of the Russian Tourism Industry Union said.
Two and a half million of those visitors were foreigners and 3.2 million were Russian tourists.
Although in 2012 the growth in incoming tourism was slightly lower compared to last year’s increase — when the number of tourists rose from 5.1 million people in 2010 to 5.5 million — the city is still seeing a gradual increase in visitors.
“The volume of tourists coming to St. Petersburg has grown recently, mostly thanks to an increase in travelers from China, India and Latin American countries, many of which have a visa-free regime with Russia,” said Pavel Rumyantsev, spokesman for the northwest office of the Russian Tourism Industry Union.
“We are also seeing an increase in the number of new direct flights between St. Petersburg and other cities in Russia (for instance, Astrakhan and Stavropol), CIS countries and the world,” he said.
However, Rumyantsev noted that there are many areas that tourism experts should keep working on in order to attract more tourists.
“To attract more foreign tourists we need to develop a systematic policy for simplifying the visa regime. To attract more Russian tourists we need to cancel VAT on domestic flights,” Rumyantsev said.
Another significant factor would be the creation of an effective and convenient transport infrastructure for tourists, including permission for tourist buses to use bus lanes, he said.
“We also need lots of interesting events in the city that we can include in tourist packages,” he added.
Rumyantsev described “an interesting trend now in St. Petersburg” that consists of the emergence of two distinct “St. Petersburg for tourists.” One is the “official,” imperial St. Petersburg, which clients of travel agencies normally see. The other is the “mystical, innovative, European, youthful” city that is usually shown to individual tourists — mainly Russian ones — by guides working without licenses who are not members of any tourist organizations.
“We need to unite those two St. Petersburgs and show both of them to make the city even more attractive,” Rumyantsev said.
Rumyantsev said if the political and economic situation in the world is favorable next year, tourist volumes to St. Petersburg may exceed six million people.
Russian outbound tourism, including from St. Petersburg, has shown stable growth this year and taken a leading position in the world.
Accordingly, both Russian and foreign travel operators and airlines expanded their services on the local tourism market in 2012.
This year European travel operator TUI announced the launch of flights from St. Petersburg on both TUI-branded charter planes and regular planes. The company began flying on TUI-branded planes to the Egyptian resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada on Oct. 7. The operator also offers package holidays with direct flights from St. Petersburg to Thailand, Spain, the Canary Islands and the United Arab Emirates.
Just a week before TUI announced its new flights from St. Petersburg, another major player in the travel market — Emirates Airlines — announced the arrival in the city of its tourism branch, Emirates Holidays, which is the biggest travel agency in the Middle East.
Emirates Holidays’ St. Petersburg office, which opened in the summer, offers holiday packages to both local travel agencies and individual tourists on Emirates flights, which were launched from St. Petersburg in November 2011.
Ian McDougal, regional director of Emirates Holidays, said at a news conference in St. Petersburg that the company was ready to organize trips to numerous destinations around the world, including the United Arab Emirates, the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia and India.
On Dec. 8, Korean Air also launched twice-weekly direct winter flights between Seoul and St. Petersburg. The flights also provide connections for passengers flying from Russia to China, Japan, the U.S. and Australia, as well as countries for which Russians do not require a visa, such as Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
Yevgeny Ilyin, commercial director of Northern Capital Gateway, the consortium that runs Pulkovo Airport, predicted that after the launch of the new passenger terminal at Pulkovo, planned for the end of 2013, the popularity of Asian destinations among Russian travelers would “keep growing.”
The St. Petersburg-based carrier Rossiya Airlines also continued to increase the range and scope of its flights and registered a growth in passenger numbers.
Tatyana Gavrilova, head of the northwest office of the Russian Tourism Industry Union, said in the fall that Russia was currently one of the world’s leading nations in outbound tourism.
“According to the latest survey, Russians now travel 30 percent more than the Chinese and 640 percent more than Brazilians,” Gavrilova told The St. Petersburg Times.
Europeans, on the other hand, are showing no growth in outbound tourism, although they continue to travel a lot. Due to the financial crisis in Europe, outbound tourism is in stagnation there, she said.
“Therefore it is understandable that foreign travel companies — those that are thinking about the future — realize the necessity of developing the Russian market. St. Petersburg, as the center of Russia’s northwest, is a very attractive location for them,” Gavrilova said.
Other factors, such as Russia’s entry into the WTO and the efficient policy of Northern Capital Gateway, have contributed to this positive development, she added.
According to data from the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, the volume of Russian tourists abroad increased by 7 percent in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. In total, Russians made about 6.5 million trips abroad, Interfax reported.
Turkey, traditionally the most popular destination for Russian tourists, again received the highest number of visits, welcoming 936,000 Russians, although numbers decreased by 17 percent from the year before.
In second place was Egypt, which saw 804,000 visits by Russians, an increase of 65 percent from last year. China received the third most number of visits by Russians in the first half of this year with about 573,000 Russian citizens going there, though this figure marked a decrease of 9 percent.
At the same time, the volume of Russian tourists significantly increased in Slovakia (by 97 percent), Tunisia (by 92 percent), Romania (by 85 percent) and Japan (by 62 percent).