What Russia, the largest country in the world, is at war, has consequences of all kinds and in all areas, including in tourism. Globally – declining reserves, rising fuel, inflation, fear – and most importantly, in Russian tourism as an outbound and inbound market. After travel came to a screeching halt during the pandemic, Russians were once again traveling abroad and spending.
Russian tourists carry their food while walking towards Balos beach and its lagoon in the northeastern part of the island of Crete on May 13, 2021. – (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)
According to the statistics, About 45 million Russians go on trips each year in pre-pandemic. It was a rising market, it grew steadily and it was appreciated in destinations due to the level of spending per inhabitantmuch higher than that of tourists of other nationalities.
The conflict has been going on for less than a month and the discomfort is already felt by the lack of Russians who, ironically, are counted in the same consumer group with Ukrainians – “Tourism suffers from lack of Russians and Ukrainians”, read the headlines – because they come from the same region and when it comes to holidays, at least, they have the same tastes.
Where do Russians travel? In the sun, in the heat, on the beach. Preferred countries are Turkey, Thailand, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Greece and also; in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, and in Asia, the Maldives and the beaches of Goa, India.
Miami too, of course. Few years ago it has become fashionable among high-income Russian women to give birth in Miami, for the possibility of obtaining an American passport for the baby, for the baby shower hyperconsumer – better if it’s in a Trump Tower – and for the glamor that American doctors represent in the imagination of these future Russian mothers.
The market, which characterizes everything, calls him birth tourism, birth tourism. Additionally, a number of Russian millionaires own condominiums in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, an area about 40 minutes from Miami that is already known as Little Moscow.
If a global typology of the tourist were made, Russian millionaires would occupy a defined box. New bourgeoisie inclined to luxury, client of ski resorts in the Alps, Club Med and exclusive places like the famous Clinique La Prairie, in Switzerland.
A few years ago, I was in La Prairie to write an article. The journey was to get inside and enjoy the spa, balanced diet and non-invasive treatments. One of the invasive treatments, successful at the time, was to inject fetal sheep liver, which (supposedly) prolongs life.
My partner at the time was a Russian millionaire staying at the clinic. Since she later became a character in my article, I still remember the name – Nadia Kalinina. Like many Russians, she was very blond, blue-eyed and tall.
The first day, even though we shared yoga classes (we were the only ones), she didn’t check me in, look at me or talk to me. The second day, while doing aquagym under the tutelage of a French teacher, he told me that she had gone to the hospital to make herself beautiful for her husband, which had a shipping company. Nadia’s face was smooth as freshly polished wood, the timeless face of botox and collagen. This week of treatments would be her husband’s gift.
Luckily, we left the clinic the same day. I didn’t know if she’d had a shot, but when we met in the lobby she looked stunning, like a Hollywood actress. They even wanted to ask for an autograph. When I told him about it, he smiled slightly, perhaps to avoid the wrinkles, and said in basic English: “I am a gift”. And she invited me to get in the limo that would take her to the airport.
Russian tourists take a break while visiting Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii or the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Istanbul, Turkey January 29, 2021. REUTERS/ Murad Sezer
From Russia with love
The other side of this tourism recession is that Russia has been crippled as a receptive market. In recent years, after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup, Russia has made a remarkable entry into the international tourism scene. In 2019 it was visited by more than 24 million tourists and work is underway to double that figure by 2035.
But plans can go wrong. In 2020 there was no tourism and in 2021 it had started to recover arrivals increasing until the weather turns foul and ends in the darkness of war. The vastness of Russian territory has receded in terms that go beyond distance. The land of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Maria Sharapova, once again, was denied to the world.
Saint PETERSBOURG is the European treasure of Russia, second city after Moscow. The Venice of the North, an important cruise port on the Baltic and home to the Hermitage Museum, one of the most spectacular and immense in the world, which welcomed more than two million tourists a year. the old Leningradthe city of the tsars and Rasputin – and the birthplace of Vladimir Putin – was visited each year by ten million tourists from China, Germany, South Korea and the United States, among other countries.
Tourism has developed and diversified: Arctic Circle cruises, photo safaris in Kamchatka, biking on Lake Baikal, including the detour to Kyiv and then to Pripyat to see the remains of Chernobyl, in Ukraine. Tourism has grown fat, swollen with possibilities.
Again, conjugate in the past tense. Remembrance tourism, and for this very reason the following digression. A few years ago I traveled to Russia to write an article on the siberian trans for a tourist magazine.
The mythical train that crosses nine time zones and connects Europe and Asia, the most extensive rail system in existence, the dream journey from Moscow to Vladivostok has a luxury tourist option that has attracted travelers from many countries, including Argentina. There is even a wholesale agency in our country that sells it.
Russian tourists, one of whom carries a bottle of champagne, chat with police securing the bridge leading to the Eiffel Tower, Wednesday, September 23, 2020, in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
One of the passengers on this Trans-Siberian was Alina Szewczuk, a Ukrainian who fled her country before the outbreak of World War II and he settled with his parents in Río Colorado, in the northwest of the province of Río Negro. Alina, 85, took the Trans-Siberian with her daughter to transit through the country where her beloved cousin Nina had been taken. One afternoon, as the train passed through the birch forest, I asked him what had happened to Nina, who had taken her, why.
During Stalinism they took her from Ukraine without explanation and no one else heard from her until much later, when a letter arrived with her signature saying, “I am in the land of the rising sun.” In code, he meant he was in Siberia. Nina had been sentenced to ten years working in a gulag. In her country, she left a son – her husband had died in the war – and her parents. In prison, she married a Lithuanian and had three more children. Alina never saw her again.
“Once, on my birthday, they told me there was a train going through Siberia and I asked my daughter to book a ticket,” Alina says, still looking out the window. The birches passed but she watched the film of memories.
A few months after the trip, I discovered that Alina had died returning from Russia. I don’t know if it is possible to die peacefully, but if it exists, I imagine that she died peacefully, having granted her wish to discover Siberia, and to travel through it in peace.
In this photo taken Wednesday, May 1, 2019, Russian tourist Nadia Kazachenok poses for a photo taken by Mikhail Samarin in Fjadrárgljúfur. (AP Photo/Egill Bjarnason)
Back in the present, at an extraordinary meeting convened for the next few days, the World Tourism Organization will assess the suspension of Russia as a member of the organization. Meanwhile, the hundreds of Russians who have gone on vacation and are stranded in different countries with their credit cards cut off manage to survive and hope to return to their country which, for the moment, keeps the airspace closed to around 30 countries.
One of them is Ludmila Kosareva, the guide I had on the Trans-Siberian train, which hasn’t run since the pandemic. Mila had been vacationing in Cancun since late January and found herself stranded halfway around the world. “It’s terrible what is happening. I don’t know how and when I will return home. Well, we will resist. A hug”, he wrote to me yesterday in a message.