Travel agencies: “It was not purchasing power but restrictive half-measures that impeded the sale of tours”

Russians developed an interest in a weekend tour in Tatarstan, but in August it is intercepted by the sea

Travel agencies: “It was not purchasing power but restrictive half-measures that impeded the sale of tours”
Photo: Maksim Platonov

With the third stage of lifting restrictions in Tatarstan, bans on group tours of more than five people have been lifted, which will significantly ease the life of tour companies and expand opportunities for travellers. Let us remind that the republic is one of the first regions of the country that began to receive tourists after total self-isolation. Besides, there is a demand for Kazan and the regions of Tatarstan. According to the analytics of the Association of Tour Operators, this direction is among the three most popular for short trips around Russia this season. The representatives of tour companies told us about how domestic tourism is developing in the republic in August.

Among leaders in lifting restrictions and in weekend trips

Tatarstan has lifted another restrictions on tourism this week. Until now, guides in the republic were allowed to shepherd groups of five people, and with radio equipment — no more than ten.

“There were no restrictions particularly on group travels. In the bus, there were, let's say, 40 people, but when going out into the fresh air, where there is less risk of infection, they had to be divided into groups of five people with a guide or ten people with a radio guide. In such cases, we had to have four or five guides. The measures are not quite clear. Now they have been cancelled, although major mass events, conferences, and forums are still banned," Yelena Ilkun, the director of Byuro Puteshestvy Kazani travel agency, explained to Realnoe Vremya.

With the removal of the next restrictions, travel agencies hope for an influx of group bookings, especially since Kazan, according to the Association of Tour Operators (ATOR), has been the second in the rating of popular short trips around Russia. The leader is Saint Petersburg, and Kaliningrad rounded out the top three. According to experts' research, most often Russians take tours for three days and two nights. Usually, tourists leave on Thursday-Friday and return on Sunday.

Almost every region has its own weekend tours. “Before the pandemic, Tatarstan was one of the fastest growing regions and a popular destination among residents of Asia and the Middle East. Of course, there is no such flow now. But Tatarstan was the first to remove restrictions for tourists. Kazan became one of the first cities where they went after self-isolation," Daria Domostroeva, the director of public relations at Intourist, Moscow, said.

According to her, if we do not take into account the crisis period, weekend tours to Kazan have already become standard and popular, when people arrive on Thursday or Friday and leave on Sunday — for three or four days and three or two nights.

If you do not take into account the crisis period, then weekend tours to Kazan have already become standard and popular

“Virtual life is tasteless”

The directors of tour companies told us about how the sphere of domestic tourism is reviving after the crisis. They found it difficult to tell Realnoe Vremya the figures of their losses. They replied that they had gone “into the red” or “showed zero”.

“Millions of losses. Previously, a period of high demand covered the expenses of a period of low demand. But this year, there has been no high demand: May was zero. What was spent in January-March turned to be a loss. These “disadvantages” only accumulated, including due to the refund of prepayment to tourists, as well as non-refunds of money from those companies to which the amounts had been transferred," said Yelena Ilkun.

“All my colleague's groups that were supposed to come from the Urals have been unbooked from September — people do not want to take risks. Our company works mainly with trade union organisations. It has been a very serious failure this year. Coronavirus spoiled all we've planned," said the founder of Zilant-Tour PLC, Rezida Dovgal.

However, companies are not going to shut down at all. Svetlana Pimenova, the director of Itil-Tour travel agency, hopes that after the restrictions on group tours are lifted, tourists will be attracted. “It's still a long way to revenues," says Kamil Tarzimanov, the commercial director at Salavat City Centre, but he is interested in the business.

“It is a sluggish process now. Certainly, we are minimising costs, reducing the number of employees in the office and hope that the market will develop over time. They frighten us: what was before cannot be returned. I am amused by suggestions about virtual travelling. This is, of course, informative, but nothing will replace offline, you can not remotely walk, touch with your hands. People come not only to watch but also to socialise in cafes, restaurants, entertainment venues, go to concerts, theatres. When people walk, laugh, they get positive energy, and this in turn creates a positive background, transmits good emotions from person to person. You can live virtually, but it's not very tasty," Viktor Stepantsov, the head of Kazan Intur, said in a conversation with Realnoe Vremya.

People come not only to watch but also to socialise in cafes, restaurants, entertainment venues, go to concerts, theatres. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Sea is preferred over Tatarstan in summer

According to Kamil Tarzimanov, domestic tourism in Tatarstan has fallen by more than half compared to previous years.

“We are a company that also works with foreign tourists, but they are not present now. They gave more than 50% of the total turnover in the summer — these were good figures. Foreigners will go, they call, ask when we will open. But usually, they come from May to October, and their peak usually falls in August, just now the borders are still closed for them," says the head of Byuro Puteshestvy Kazani travel agency.

According to Yelena Ilkun, Russians are ready for domestic tourism, usually from September to May. Compared to last year, even for 3 months, this market has not reached the level of last year. The total flow of August is 32% of the same period last year. But still, August is more or less reviving because the restrictions have been lifted, the interlocutor noted.

“Groups used to come to us from March to December. Last August, we had many check-ins: a group every week. Now the first group is arriving in Tatarstan after the restrictions lifted only at the end of August. If we compare, this year the flow of August is four times less," says Rezida Dovgal.

Russians are ready for domestic tourism, usually from September to May. Compared to last year, even for 3 months, this market has not reached the level of last year

Many Tatarstan citizens went to health resorts in Karlovy Vary, Hungary for treatment, Kamil Tarzimanov reminded. According to him, Tatarstan is now, of course, a more affordable option, without unnecessary difficulties and paperwork. As for domestic tourism, the commercial director does not see a surge but notes a movement. “After all, Russians prefer the sea in summer. So far, excursions to Kazan and the republic are episodic, not in a mass order," Tarzimanov told our publication.

He emphasises that it is impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow. So there is no early booking — “it's unrealistic, no one can predict”. Local tourists who are afraid to go far, for this reason they buy tours of the republic just 2-3 days before the weekend.

Rezida Dovgal agrees that it is difficult to make any forecasts. “People are reacting to rumours, and they are already spreading on all social networks that from September 20 everything will be closed again for self-isolation. In any case, I think it is unlikely that school groups will come this year," the head of Zilant Tour suggests.

The practice of Byuro Puteshestvy Kazan travel agency shows that among Russians domestic tourism in Tatarstan has increased by 40% this August compared to last year.

Tourists become interested in Sviyazhsk, Raifa, Bolgar, Yelabuga, Chistopol, Kamskoye Ustye, Rybnaya Sloboda, Tetyushi, Laishevsky district

Weekend tours are more interesting to people from other regions, very often Kazan residents do not even know their city, confirms Rezida Dovgal. “If Tatarstan citizens go on excursions to our places, they learn a lot of new things and are very surprised at how wonderful they are," said the head of Zilant-Tour.

According to Ilkun, tourists are interested in Sviyazhsk, Raifa, Bolgar, Yelabuga, Chistopol, Kamskoye Ustye, Rybnaya Sloboda, Tetyushi, Laishevsky district.

Tourists come individually for one day

Small travel agencies that have not yet adapted to the conditions of weekend programmes are experiencing a crisis. Due to restrictions on the number of tourists on excursions, Itil-tour could not actually work until the last days, until the ban was lifted.

“The market is changing so much that we currently are not selling weekend tours at all. And there are a lot of individual tourists in Kazan, but they mostly do not apply to travel companies but come independently and visit objects in the regions of the republic in one day," explained Svetlana Pimenova.

Viktor Stepantsov and Kamil Tarzimanov note that among the August tourists in Tatarstan there are those who bought tickets in advance and could not return the money for them earlier, and now these people still decided to use them.

“It's a big country. When they show that the southern resorts are packed, they do not queue for booking tours to Tatarstan. I don't see any growth in demand. Perhaps this is the policy: even Turkey has now been opened, but unfortunately, because of weird stories, people are not rushing there en masse. There are a lot of offers, but purchasing power is not even the most important factor. All these restrictive half-measures — it is allowed here, it is prohibited there (bans on booking in hotels, bans on groups more than 5-10 people) — entail negative consequences for the industry, of course, the companies have suffered very much, although people came privately," summed up Viktor Stepantsov.

By Yekaterina Ablaeva
Analytics Tatarstan