In Russia, it is common to own a dacha – a summer house that can vary in size from a small cottage to a large house, often with a fruit and vegetable garden. From Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, historically, many residents of Russia’s major cities have relied on these rural plots of land to weather food crises and other hardships. During the pandemic shutdowns, many Russians have used their dachas as refuges. Today they are increasingly used as holiday homes for many people who would have already traveled abroad.
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Since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russian tourists have found it difficult to travel outside their home country. European skies are currently closed to Russian planes, while Russian airspace does not allow European planes. Many Russian travelers cannot – or do not want to – make long and expensive detours.
And because Russia has been excluded from the international money transfer system SWIFT and Western credit institutions like Visa and Mastercard, Russian tourists can only pay their bills abroad in cash – although some countries accept the Russian payment system Mir. In any case, paying for a vacation has become much more difficult.
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Popular river cruises
Those who find their dachas too confined have sought new national vacation destinations. Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area and offers great geographical variety. River cruises are a particularly popular vacation option right now, Anastasia Kisilyova of St. Petersburg-based travel agency Infoflot tells DW. “We are seeing a 40-50% increase in bookings for the next few months compared to last year.” Kisilyova says this year’s numbers are the highest in 15 years. Additionally, 30% of all customers have booked a river cruise for the first time.
Cruises around the so-called “Golden Ring” are particularly popular. This tourist route passes through the old Russian cities northeast of Moscow. Established between the 11th and 17th centuries, the settlements were the scene of important events in Russian history and have many popular churches and monasteries to visit.
Tourist guide Anastasia Androsova from the city of Samara on the Volga is delighted with this. In an interview with DW she says that more and more Russians are discovering their own country. “Even the people of Samara suddenly want to rediscover their own city.” The same goes for Russia’s Black Sea coast in the Krasnodar region, which is usually a high-demand location – although most airports have been closed since the start of the war.
The situation is different for trips to Crimea. Up to a third of all hotels and guesthouses will not be able to open in the summer, estimates the Russian newspaper Kommersant. Many tourists do not travel to the peninsula annexed to Russia because its airport was closed after the start of the war and because they are afraid of war in neighboring Ukraine, according to the Kommersant report.
Fewer Russians go on vacation abroad
Prospects are not good for Russian tourism abroad. Restricted flights and significantly higher prices have led to a sharp drop in the number of Russian tourists. There were, for example, four times fewer Russian tourists in Turkey in March, according to the Russian Union of Travel Agencies. This also applies to luxury tourists in Russia: there were three times fewer five-star and business-class hotel tourists from Russia than last year in March and April.
At the same time, the so-called VIP tourism industry – that which caters to the super rich – has remained stable, Maya Lomidze of the Russian Union of Travel Suppliers told Forbes. The number of very wealthy Russians who want to travel abroad for longer periods has increased, she said.
With the rise of domestic tourism and the decline of tourism outside Russia, parallels have been drawn with 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and the West responded with sanctions. Moscow, in turn, introduced counter-sanctions, which included banning imports of foreign foods such as cheese and apples.
The domestic food industry was thus helped when the Russian government invested in it. Russian consumers initially missed the French camembert, but quickly got used to the new locally produced cheeses. Whether this inward orientation can now save the country’s tourism industry remains to be seen. Either way, traveling to Europe is likely to remain a challenge for most Russian tourists for the foreseeable future.
Few foreign tourists in Russia
Domestic tourism is booming, but few foreign tourists come to Russia and tourism providers are feeling the pinch. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, there were many cancellations, Marina Levchenko of travel agency Tari Tur told Russian tourist information site TourDom.ru. “Unfortunately, we have to conclude that the summer season is about to collapse,” she told the platform.
After the International Travel Fair in Madrid at the end of January this year, there was still hope for the industry, Levchenko said. “We saw that Europe was waking up. We also saw an interest in Russia,” she said. “Unfortunately, however, politics has put the final nail in the coffin. The summer is going to be tough. It’s just sad.