‘Many of our VIP tourists made a second citizenship for themselves’
How the tourism market in Tatarstan is going through a crisis and which “unpatriotic” offers are refused by tour operators
In the conditions of a decline of outbound tourism, Tatarstan residents, like other Russians, are booking foreign tours for the New Year many times less than before. They are deterred by the high cost of tickets, numerous transfers, problems with visa and payment cards. This season, the most popular destinations are domestic, they account for up to 80% of all booked New Year's trips, and the sales of vouchers within the country, on the contrary, exceed last year's figures by 25-30%. With rare exceptions, foreign trips have become available only to wealthy Tatarstan citizens, many of whom are returning with a second passport. Read the details in the material of Realnoe Vremya.
A quarter of travel agencies closed in Kazan
Among the foreign destinations, Turkey is traditionally in the top, namely Istanbul, and even the recent terrorist attacks have not affected demand. Besides, the city often serves as a transit point for Russian tourists on their way to other countries or parts of the world, for example, to the USA or Europe. Popular destinations also include Thailand, Egypt, UAE, Sri Lanka, Maldives. As for prices, a week during the New Year holidays in the United Arab Emirates for two will cost about 150 thousand rubles, and a vacation in Egypt will cost an average of 140 thousand.
The events in Ukraine and Western sanctions have led to a sharp decline in outbound tourism. In conditions of declining real incomes of the population, tour operators have been forced to significantly reduce their activities or switch to online work. In 16 major cities — Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Novosibirsk and others — up to 20% of tourist offices have closed. According to other data, the share of actually closed agencies exceeds 30%. This trend is confirmed by Chairman of the Association of Travel Agencies of the Republic of Tatarstan Ramil Miftakhov. According to him, these data fully reflect the current situation on the market. Besides, there is a tendency when the company does not close but suspends its work in the tourist services market, switching to another business.
“It is not clear to whom in what currency to pay for the tour”
If October-November is a relatively quiet period in the tourism industry, then December-January is traditionally a peak of activity among tourists. And here the formula already works: high season — high prices. At least, that was the case before the coronacrisis. The pandemic has already tested the strength of tourism industry players: those who were not ready for a six-month downtime left the market. Now the tourism sector is experiencing other difficulties and is trying to adapt to them.
Little has changed in the community of the republic's leading tour operators. All major companies remained afloat. They continue to operate, there have been no high-profile bankruptcies over the past year, the source told the publication. According to him, domestic tourism has become much more popular, but the reason again is that our tourists have little choice.
“Unfortunately, nothing new is being built in Russia, no infrastructure has appeared on a global scale after the Sochi Olympics — nothing has been invested in tourism. Only a few objects have opened. Domestic tourism works due to that there is nowhere else to go," the expert complained.
To Europe via Istanbul or Belgrade
Turkey has now turned out to be the biggest beneficiary in tourism, although even in this country they complain about a reduction in the flow of Russian tourists. Local carrier Turkish Airlines operates all over the world and, at the same time, provides the opportunity for Russian tourists to choose almost any destination. But the price of tickets has soared two or three times. Nevertheless, the service is being in demand. In addition, there have appeared direct flights from Kazan to Antalya without a transfer in Istanbul, which tour operators have been waiting for for a long time. The example is followed by other airlines offering direct flights for a lower price, but here it is necessary to understand that there is a great danger of flight cancellations. For example, several flights to Antalya scheduled for February have already been cancelled, Sergey Pasechnik warns.
Besides, there is an alternative to flights to Europe via Belgrade, and relatively inexpensive. But even here we should not forget that the quality of both aircraft, service, and the airport will be lower compared to Istanbul.
“As for Aeroflot, due to the lack of the opportunity to fly to unfriendly countries, it operates flights to conditionally friendly ones, such as the Maldives, Seychelles and Thailand. The ticket price is still acceptable, which makes it possible to plan trips to these exotic countries. Besides, there is another good news for us: Aeroflot now flies to Dubai via Moscow and Sochi. This is also an alternative flight option at a reduced ticket price. The prices are still quite adequate," the tour operator believes.
“They offered to include obtaining a second citizenship in the services, but I considered it unpatriotic”
In addition to winter beach holidays, tourists are now starting to book tours to ski resorts. Their number is still small: about 25% of the figures of three years ago. Sochi is the most popular destination among Russians, but holders of a Schengen visa can also travel abroad.
“If we talk about ski tours a year ago and now, there is a significant difference between the foreign and domestic market. Sochi is still popular, as it was last year. But we are practically not engaged in the ski resorts of our country. It's not interesting for us. It's always a lot of wasted time, useless competition, and very little marginality. As for foreign ski resorts, Covid-19 restrictions were still in effect last year, but even in these conditions there were various loopholes in the form of purchasing medical tours in hotels with a medical set of services," Pasechnik said.
So, for example, according to him, Tatarstan tourists could go to expensive Swiss hotels that were located in ski resorts. They combined mandatory treatment with skiing. And if during the peak of the pandemic it was not easy to get to the resorts of France and Italy, this year there are no restrictions. “Those who have a Schengen visa, who were able to convince visa centres to extend it, can safely go anywhere. It is allowed, practiced, and it is normal. Now it is quite possible to book tours to ski resorts in the 'Meccas of active winter recreation' such as Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany," the expert noted.
During the pandemic, another trend appeared in the travel industry — the acquisition of a second citizenship. “Many of our VIP tourists have obtained a residence permit, citizenship, and second passports for these 2 years. Reputable partners offered us to include such services in the list, but I considered it unpatriotic and wrong. Nevertheless, such a trend was observed.”
Everything is in standby mode
Other representatives of the tourism industry also record a reduction in sales volumes in the face of a drop in real incomes of citizens. According to Yulia Talanova, the director of Travel-Endvok PLC, Tatarstan residents are interested in New Year's tours, but so far they are booking little.
“Everything has affected the market of tourist services: sanctions, price increases, mobilisation, and a decrease in the level of income of the population. The client is not ready to pay. Now almost all tours booked for the New Year have not yet received payment. People are waiting We see this even in the domestic market. There is no need to go far, many tickets are booked, for example, for a trip to the residence of Kysh Babay are not paid. The same thing is happening on other tours.”
Another new trend is the growing popularity of individual tourism. Russians began to organise their own holidays from beginning to end.
“Sales have dropped, but planes are full”
The situation on the tourist market in other cities of Tatarstan also remains relatively stable. There are fewer customers, but they are willing to pay more money for a vacation. All directions are available, but at different prices, said the head of Samina Tour PLC, Leysan Iskhakova:
“Yes, prices have increased, but the fact that products are becoming more expensive, we do not refuse them. We collect the same basket that we are used to. Our refrigerators are still full, also in tourism. The situation now is incomparable with the pandemic years — the choice is wide. Many popular destinations besides Europe are open. In recent days, Thailand has become the most popular.”
The interlocutor of the publication noticed another paradox — the sales of tours have fallen, but the planes still fly full: “During a recent trip to the Arab Emirates, it turned out that there were very few tourists on the beaches, while the board was full both there and back. Perhaps, this means that people are flying not to rest, but to work and live in another country.”