“So far borders are opened only on paper...”: when overseas travel business to revive in Russia?

Travel business is waiting for the final go-ahead and the opening of flights

“So far borders are opened only on paper...”: when overseas travel business to revive in Russia?
Photo: Maksim Platonov

The summer tourist season has been lost, but there are still hopes for autumn and winter, participants of the Tatarstan tourist market claim. They call the partial opening of borders a half-measure, but everyone is ready to send clients for permitted treatment. Meanwhile, already now well-off travellers are finding ways to go on vacation away from home — sometimes abroad.

Medical tourism is working only nominally

The decision to partially open the borders came into force in Russia on June 6. Now Russians will have the opportunity to leave the country to their relatives who live abroad and need care, as well as for medical treatment, work or study.

So far, the borders have only been opened “on paper”, says Kamil Tarzimanov, the director of Salavat-Tur travel agency. For this to happen in reality, it is necessary to have a direct connection with, for example, Germany, Turkey, and Israel, where Russians traditionally go for treatment. So far these countries can only be reached by indirect routes. “It's not just that it will be more expensive: it's inconvenient for medical tourism. The patient is comfortable when they arrive at their destination in 2-4 hours, especially since people who go on such trips are not always healthy," he says.

In short, it is difficult to say how to do this in practice. This issue is likely to become more relevant from mid-July, when they promise to open direct flights.

“Gradually, everything will fall into place. Depending on how fast and where the planes will fly," Sergey Pasechnik from Companion SP reassures himself and the others. He believes that the main issue in opening a full tourist season is the issue of technology: “When it is ready, when all airports, flights, hotels are equipped with frames that immediately identify sick and infected people, etc.”

Pasechnik states that this year it is almost difficult to form anything for the summer: “There is more hope for individual trips. And already closer to winter there will be package tours.”

By the way, according to his information, during the time of forced self-isolation, many Tatarstan residents went to Crimea. For some, the reason was their own real estate there, someone just rented apartments on the peninsula for their family. “Of course, this entailed some additional difficulties but people get used to everything," said the director of Companion SP, reminding that before the introduction of Schengen visas for travel abroad, there were all sorts of paper obstacles. However, this did not stop those who wanted to travel.

“I came to the sanatorium but didn't feel free to move”

At the same time, Viktor Stepantsov from Kazan Intur company believes that full control over the flow of those who seek to other countries will not be observed. “I don't think that they will stand at the borders and check the documents, who have come for what — someone to their relatives, someone — for treatment," he also said.

Nevertheless, the director of Kazan Intur does not predict a huge number of people who want to go abroad now. He explains this by the fact that the category of people who can afford a vacation outside the country is already there. Others, in his opinion, should think about how much treatment will cost them if something goes wrong with the vacation.

In short, the situation is very ambiguous, but there is no need to say that people are afraid to go on vacation abroad: “It is difficult to frighten Russian tourists with something.” Stepantsov believes that in this case, the factor will work, whether there is money for a foreign vacation or not. If someone from a financial point of view can afford to bask on the overseas sea sand and the borders will open, such people will go to resorts. If they announce that you can go on vacation abroad, people will go: “But only those who, first of all, are very confident, and who have the means.”

But no one can predict what the vacation will look like in practice. In short, the participants of the tourist market themselves doubt the demand for their services.

He noted one more feature pre- and post-Covid rest: “Previously, on the way back, they left change in their pocket, spending everything at the resort. But now it is necessary to have a “safety margin” in case of possible complications: “The borders can be closed again.” Or, as practice shows, the return route home may be more difficult, or the return in general can be late for a week or two.

For example, Stepantsov said that his colleagues had clients in the Maldives — a family from Ufa. During the coronavirus pandemic, Moscow tourists were taken out of there. The family from Ufa was also offered to return, but after a two-week observation. They refused, continuing their vacation in the Maldives for 800-900 euros a day: “So they can afford it.”

There are many questions: including what and how tourists will be fed.

“Let's wait a week or two and see. Yesterday everything was forbidden, now it is already half allowed," he says.

The interlocutor of Realnoe Vremya believes that it is necessary either to allow travel abroad on vacation or not to allow it. If they do not allow it, then they need to support with money. And if allowed, there is a risk of a new outbreak. In his opinion, much in this case depends on the culture of behaviour of people themselves. He gave an example of two stores: an expensive one and a low-cost one. The question: where are they better observing social distance and mask regime? Most people think in a low-cost one. In fact, nothing like this: they observe it in an expensive store, but not in a low-budget store: “This is like a protest, but in fact, a person is protesting against himself.”

“He got on a rented plane and flew to Istanbul”

“Of course, this is positive information. But in principle, patients have long been quietly leaving Russia," Anton Kazarin, the director of the representative office of the Turkish clinic Anadolu in Kazan, told Realnoe Vremya about the information on the partial opening of the borders.

For example, according to him, they had a 36-year-old man who went by air for treatment a week ago, and “the border guards did not have any questions”. “He got on a rented private plane and flew to Istanbul. He rented it himself, because the situation was critical. We found the cheapest option with a flight from Krasnodar for 9,500 euros," says Kazarin.

He knows from colleagues from other clinics, including European ones, that they also have been sending patients for a long time already. In short, the partial opening of borders is not news to them. But the fact that international flights may be launched from July 15, Kazarin called “a very good sign”. “Now patients are trying to get to the clinic by hook or by crook. Especially those who can't be helped here," he reminded about the problems of patients.

However, it seems that Kazarin and his colleagues have competitors. “We are all engaged in medical tourism. For example, we will send you to South Korea, Germany or Israel for treatment without any problems," Sergey Pasechnik said in the interview with Realnoe Vremya. According to him, the only question is that someone already has experience working with clinics or medical centres that specialise in various kinds of cosmetological, anti-aging, and other procedures. Companion SP has a lot of such contacts and partners, he says.

According to Tarzimanov, quite a lot of our compatriots “travel” for medical reasons. He himself took advantage of this opportunity six or seven years ago, and he was really cured abroad, 'pulled out of a difficult situation'.”

And now, he reminded, the first coach of figure skater Alina Zagitova is stuck in Turkey for treatment. So far the woman “physically” can not be returned to her homeland: it is necessary to order a separate charter, which is also prohibited. Besides, there is a financial issue, a decent amount is required: many hundred thousand dollars.

In short, there are many different nuances. And we have to solve them individually because medical tourism is an individual tourism. It takes up a small percentage of the total but is very relevant for some people who have no chance of being cured in Russia. The director of the travel agency says that people come to him with cries for help, of course, not every day or even every week, but nevertheless such cases happen.

At the moment, there are almost no options for delivering people abroad: neither there nor back. When direct flights open, this will be a more solvable issue. Now it is necessary to either organise expensive charters for each patient individually, which is economically impractical: tens of thousands of dollars that a single flight costs, not everyone will be able to cope, even with the help of funds, etc.

As for the situation with the previously mentioned coach of Zagitova, Kazarin (and the woman was treated just in the Anadolu clinic) confirmed that she still cannot return. However, they launched a fund raising campaign in social networks, and NTV filmed a story about her. “We hope that the necessary amount will be collected," Kazarin concluded.

If tourist flows went at least around Russia…

Svetlana Pimenova from ITIL Tour company believes that the current situation is primarily an impetus for the development of domestic tourism. Her agency is engaged exclusively in sightseeing tourism. Mostly in Kazan and Tatarstan, but in part they take guests to neighbouring republics.

“I do not think that now there will be flows of tourists abroad. It would be good if they went at least to Russia," Pimenova dreams.

She also believes that no boom is expected so far. The summer season within the country is already lost. Besides, summer, according to her, is not the highest season for excursions. It is still more associated with a rest at the seaside.

Therefore, all their hopes are connected only with autumn and winter, when they expect the rise of excursions. Unless, of course, there is a second wave of the epidemic. In short, everyone hopes that they will gradually start working.

“Tourism has been the first to suffer. And last of all it will come out of the crisis because economic shocks hit this industry the hardest," says Svetlana.

The volume of tourist admittance has been reduced by almost half, and holiday itself can rise in price by a third

Meanwhile, the Association of Tour Operators in Russia predicts that holidays in Russian resorts may rise in price by a third. In particular, Alexander Kurnosov, the vice-president of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), has recently given this forecast to Izvestia newspaper.

There are several reasons for this, in his opinion: here is the desire to “win back” the profit during the forced downtime and the demand for domestic tourism due to the unavailability of foreign one. Moreover, Kurnosov in his conclusions was guided by the results of booking tours for July-August.

According to Tarzimanov, the increase in prices for tourists packages is an expected phenomenon. The recreation conditions have been tightened. It's not just about the cost of disinfection. First, the volume of tourist admissions has almost halved. Accomodation has changed due to social distance. The host country cannot ignore this: it will not accommodate tourists at its own expense, he says.

However, Tarzimanov generally doubts whether domestic tourism will develop more in this situation. He believes that it will be affected by the same factors with flights and transportation and the increasing cost of services.

“Of course, people will consider at least such options. And they're not bad. Before that, many people did not try to rest in our country," he notes an undoubted plus. Although compared to a trip to the sea, these are completely different conditions. “In the middle of summer, the weather in the middle zone is not so warm, at night only 8-10 degrees. The water temperature in the Volga River is 15 degrees. Even in the sea in Sochi, it is only 20 degrees. This is not very comfortable compared to the Mediterranean Sea and similar options," he states.

Service is the second factor. Tarzimanov believes that “sometimes it is quite good in our country. Just like the attitude of the staff.” Popular and more affordable domestic health resorts, such as Bakirovo, Vasilevo and Krutushka, temporarily converted to an observatory, should not lack customers. Especially since people go there mainly for medical reasons. Sanatorium holidays, in his opinion, will remain as popular as before.

But unfortunately, our climate conditions are much worse for sea holidays, especially with children. Even if you mean a vacation on the Black Sea coast. “In Crimea, the holiday season is at least twice as short. And it comes only in July and September. People go to swim in the sea, to absorb salt water, so that then children can not get sick for a year," says the director of Salavat-Tour.

By Lyubov Shebalova
Tatarstan