Russians get itchy feet

Most Russians had their traditional May holiday plans disrupted due to the coronavirus lockdown. Except for the few lucky ones who went to their dachas, people resigned themselves to self-isolation in their apartments almost without complaining. But not even being able to plan a summer vacation feels somehow completely wrong. So we are making plans, even though there have been no official statements about the reopening dates for spa hotels, boarding houses, or resorts. What destinations will be the most popular this summer? Will the average vacation check change due to the crisis? Where are Russians hoping to go?

Experts at the Travelata online travel aggregator have conducted a curious study. They analyzed the search results and tour bookings in May 2020 and compared them with the same period last year to make some interesting discoveries.

Demand for domestic tourism has predictably increased, from 7% of tourists planning to travel around Russia in May 2019, to 28% in May 2020. Among the main trends, the experts mentioned thematic tourism (medical or educational). But event tourism, which has seen fast growth over the past couple of years, is now in jeopardy. On the one hand, people who have been missing new impressions will be eager to visit the locations of major exhibitions and festivals, but on the other hand, they are scared by the horrible COVID-19 statistics and way too accustomed to keep their social distance and avoid crowded places.

Expedition owner Alexander Kravtsov believes that Russian travel has excellent prospects. Our huge country has plenty of beautiful places to see. The important thing is to focus not on building luxurious hotels that few people can afford but on creating inexpensive mobile accommodation such as yurt camps and parking sites for car travelers.

“Professional guide services can prove extremely important and popular. It is nice to hike with a knowledgeable guide, discovering new places, getting unique experiences and learning new things as you go. Expeditions and nature trips have a good therapeutic effect, which is very important because lockdown had a serious traumatic effect on people,” Kravtsov added.

Russians are now four times more interested in domestic travel than last year. However, Turkey is still a number one destination, with 43% tourists picking Turkish resorts. Many want to have an all-inclusive vacation by the sea for reasonable money. Last year, however, the Turkish shore attracted even more vacationers from Russia (56%). Mandatory two-week quarantine upon return from abroad and the Foreign Ministry’s warning against foreign travel are important factors affecting the decreasing demand. After all, the epidemiological situation remains unstable.

“Many of our fellow Russians are still struggling to come back home from their pre-lockdown trips.”

The interest in such popular travel destinations as Tunisia, Greece, Cyprus, Montenegro, Spain and Bulgaria has not changed much as compared to last year. In 2019, 2% of Russians wanted to spend holidays in Bulgaria; this year, there have been only 1%. The interest in Tunisia has also reduced a little: 5% against 7% last year. However, Thailand is now even more popular: in May 2019, 4% of Russian tourists wanted to go there, and in May 2020 there have been 8% of them.

Most Russians – every fourth respondent – plan to travel this August. Last year, the most popular month for travel was May. Optimists (19% of respondents) hope that they will be able to go somewhere as soon as in July (this month ranks second), while those forethoughtful (14%) plan their travel for September. Interestingly, 3% of Russians are already making plans for the next year. For reference, in May 2019, only 0.5% of people were planning their next vacation.

Another unexpected event is that the average check for tours this May has increased and reached RUR 103K ($1.5K). Last year, Russians were ready to spend RUR 85K ($1.2K) on travel. Experts at Travelata service say that the difference is caused, first of all, by the weakened ruble.

“As our system shows, the average check has grown due to the plummeting ruble as well as to tourists abandoning plans to book several-day May vacation packages,” General Director of the online travel aggregator Alexei Zaretsky says.

According to Pyotr Kutis, founder of OneTwoTrip and co-founder of Anywayanyday, mass flight cancellations caused by the lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted tourists to reconsider their future travel planning patterns.

“People used to seek cheap tickets, while following the lockdown they will start booking vacation packages and air tickets, whose prices may increase by about 20%, beforehand and choose those that are slightly more expensive but include a cancellation option,” Kutis says.

Most tour operators believe the industry will return to its pre-pandemic levels and indicators in about a year; this could possibly happen faster. According to Alexei Zaretsky, positive dynamics is already there; the growing number of bookings inspires optimism as well.

“Unlike 2019, this year we are observing an apparent demand for the 2021 season; last May, we didn’t see anything like that,” he noted.

People will never cease to travel and enjoy it. Discovering new territories and cultures as well as getting acquainted with new people and natural phenomena serve as a perfect remedy for stress and boredom. Yet, like many other sectors, the tourism industry is going to face changes – and soon we will know their scale.    

By Natalia Sysoyeva

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