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RATA-news English Digest 4-8.2.2013

Tour operators to chip in on bringing Russians back to Egypt

Major Russian tour operators in cooperation with Egyptian government are preparing a joint marketing campaign aimed at bringing tourists back to the Red Sea. By means of TV, billboards, b2b-media and other advertizing mediums, they are going to convince Russians that travelling to Egypt's resorts is safe.

The news on the tour operator's agreement on a massive promotion campaign with Egyptian authorities was brought to light by the Sales and Marketing Director of TUI Russia & СIS Mr. Ivor Vukelik: "We would like to show that Egypt is safe, he explained. And nothing proves this better than the fact that there were no incidents with tourists in Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada even when the revolution was going at full pace".

Following massive disorders in Egypt's major cities in 2010, the tourist flow from Russia fell 30-40% down. And it's hasn't completely recovered so far. And to take a step closer to recovery, the advertizing campaign has been planned. According to Ivor Vukelik, apart from TUI, the agreement also engages other major operators: Pegas Touristik, Coral Travel and Anex Tour. Our source claims that each company is to invest at least $1.5 millioninto the project. "Combined input from TUI and Egyptian government for the next four months will be $1.5 million", stated Mr. Vukelik.

Director General of Pegas Touristik Mrs. Anna Podgornaya confirms her company's involvement in the campaign. She refused to disclose the budget, only saying that it won't be less than TUI's. Mrs. Podgornaya explained that the project's main objective was to bring back the popularity the country had once had with Russian tourists. As confirmed by the MFA of Russia and RosTourism, all tourist areas of Egypt are safe. In my opinion, Egypt's image is suffering from the media coverage of the situation; sometimes the press is being way too zealous".

Coral Travel hasn't responded to RBC Daily's inquiry. While a spokesperson from Anex Tour Ms. Eugenia Fyodorova tells that their company carries out promotional activities together with the government of Egypt every year; however the 2013 budget hasn't been agreed upon so far.

According to the data of the Russian Union of Travel Industry (RUTI), in 2010, Egypt welcomed 2.2 million Russians, and just 1.5 million in 2011. As at September 2012, the Egypt-bound tourist flow from Russia had already reached 1.2 million arrivals, which is still not as much as during the same period in 2010 (1.5 million).

The press secretary of the RUTI Mrs. Irina Tyurina thinks very positively of such move by the tour operators. "Egypt is practically a lost destination, she point out, the operators' despair is clear to me: they lost a huge load of money there in 2011, and since then the tourist flow has been unable to recover, thanks to the negative media coverage". The number of foreign tourists went down significantly. Even though the New Year holidays, and particularly January 7, did brought many tourists from Russia to the Red Sea, after the outburst of protests in late January, this flow had fallen down in no time, reports Ahram Online.

Russians favor Paris, Dubai and New York

A list of the most popular tourist destinations with Russian tourists was determined by a number of search requests made by Russian users of TripAdvisor.com between January 1 and December 31, 2012.

Top 10 goes as follows: Paris, Dubai, New York, Rome, London, Prague, Istanbul, Barcelona, Hurghada, and Bangkok.

The romantic Paris remains the most popular travel destination with the Russians, even despite the rise in hotel rates. Tourists come here for famous restaurants and galleries, and romantic landscapes seen in well-loved movies, and stay for the country’s diverse history, abundance of cultural landmarks and museums.

The oriental Dubai is gathering pace as well. According to the emirate’s tourism department, the inbound tourist flow from Russia grew by 53% compared to 2011. The destination experts associate the increasing interest with a large number of new festivals, fairs and other entertainment activities held in Dubai, as well as the region’s prolific climate, distinguished nature, and a possibility to combine beach leisure with great shopping and extreme sports.

For several years now, the USA, and New York City in particular, has been one of the most desirable and in-demand destinations among Russian travellers. Tour operators believe the facilitation of the visa application procedure and the rundown of refusals to be the prime reasons for the tourist flow growth. Hundreds of tourists sites, all kinds of entertainment at hand, and the best shopping make New York the absolute leader among other American cities. Students and seasonal workers, too, contribute to the inflow of Russian tourists.

As many as six European cities in the top 10 show that many Russians prefer travelling around Europe. Convenient air connection and Schengen multivisas make it quite easy to plan a trip and call for visiting several countries at a time.

Egypt and Thailand – the most popular beach destinations with Russian tourists – are just 9th and 10th on the TripAdvisor’s list. The reason is obvious: most tourists prefer buying a package tour instead of planning their holiday all by themselves. Nonetheless, more and more Russians tend to study other tourists’ reviews on hotels and near-by restaurants and attractions.

Sri Lanka grows amid disturbances in Egypt

The demand for Sri Lanka has risen in the first months of 2013 among Russian tourists. According to tour operators, sales in February are showing a 30% increase, compared to last year’s numbers. Yet in autumn most market players were very moderate about their estimates of the upcoming winter season. Some even called the New Year sales slow, blaming it on hoteliers, who raised prices for high dates. “The demand for the destination really wasn’t that high before the holidays. But everything changed after the news of disturbances in Egypt. Due to this, many South-East Asian resorts, including Sri Lanka, received an additional tourist flow”, said Alexander Korbarum, the president of Intaerm. According to his data, the increase of demand after the holidays is about 30%. The public’s interest is fueled by moderate prices on airline tickets from SriLankan Airlines and Qatar Airways. One can find a tour to a 3* hotel for a mere $1000, which opens Sri Lanka to mass tourists.

Aeroflot, which offered a direct flight from Moscow to Colombo during last year, decided to drop this destination in the winter season. Yet operators don’t see it as a necessarily bad thing. “A lack of direct flights hasn't really caused any deficit in airplane seats. On the contrary, the reduction of flights helped us avoid getting too many hot tours on the destination”, thinks Yulia Shestakova, Marketing Director of GTV. According to her, there’s a 20% increase in sales and the stable demand promises good results up until the middle of April and also for the duration of May holidays. Yet most Russian tourists prefer 4-5* hotels. Beach resort tours are in most demand; second place goes to mixed tours involving excursions around the country as well as beach activities.

According to Anastasia Vasilyeva, the destination’s Manager at Panteon Company, during February, tours to Sri Lanka have been selling off the shelf. There’s also a good depth of sales – almost two months. Some popular hotels are stopping bookings until late March. Also, there’s a traditional shortage of accommodation around the Chinese New Year (February 10). During this period Asian tourists simply buy out most of the rooms. By the end of 2012, sales of Sri Lankan tours have doubled at Panteon Company. There are many new hotels, which have just been finished, including luxury ones, and also there’s new tourist infrastructure – all that explains the boost of sales on this particular destination.

Not all market players are content with the actions of Sri Lankan hoteliers. Svetlana Muromskaya, head of the Sri Lanka and Philippines department at Vand International Tour explains that many hotels have raised their prices up to 40% for the peak season, even though the destination is being promoted among Russian tourists as an affordable one. Overall, the price for accommodation has risen 20% in the current year. Obviously those hotels that managed to keep their prices on a lower level, or the ones offering good deals, are more popular among tourists. Mrs. Muromskaya estimated the growth of demand to be 17-22% in this season. She also notes that popular places like Bentota or Beruwala are losing ground to the South side of the island. “Russian tourists used to avoid coming to this part of the country. The transfer from the airport was not very convenient. But after a new highway was built, the situation got much better”, concludes the expert. The popularity of southern resorts should grow even bigger with the opening of a new international airport in Mattala in 2013.

Valentine’s Day fails to become a travel occasion for Russian lovebirds

Search requests made on Sletat.ru travel portal for flights departing between the 9th and 13th of February and, thus, including St. Valentine's Day, show that Russian tourists are mostly interested in Thailand (31% of all requests), Egypt (20.3%) and UAE (6.7%). And as for European destinations – Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, they failed to reach a mere 2-percent mark; leave alone the "romantic" Paris stopped well short of 1%.

Outbound tour operators claim that the overwhelming majority of these bookings have absolutely nothing to do with Valentine's Day; it's just that this day happens to fall on student winter vacations, and the mentioned leading exotic destinations are primarily in-demand in winter, when there's a peak season there. As RATA-news was told by the Director General of Roza Vetrov Company Ms. Irina Kryukova, the Russians don't take much interest in the Catholic holiday. "Off course, we always come out with special offers to Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, as well as our traditional Geneva and Lausanne Weekends. But there's never been any extraordinary demand, while bookings for March 8 are already going quite well". And she has hardly seen any clients wishing to arrange a trip on that very Valentine's Day. They go on vacation as planned, and the holiday just comes extra, not being the travel occasion.

For three years now, Avanti Company has been fixing up special offers for Valentine's Day. But to tell the truth, they are being asked for quite rarely, informs the operator's Development Director Ms. Natalia Evstratova, adding that in February, the most in-demand country is not Switzerland – the company's principal destination, but Italy that stages the iconic Carnival of Venice at almost the same time. "There've been no specific requests for St. Valentine's Day; and even though it falls on Thursday this year, our tours for prolonged weekend in Switzerland haven't paid off", said Ms. Evstratova.

The head of Vand International Tour Mrs. Tatyana Vand makes no secret that this is not even a holiday for her. "They'd better promote June 8 – the Day of Orthodox Saints Peter and Fevronia, the Russian day of those in love". Nonetheless, the company's product range does include programs featuring Valentine's Day in, say, Prague or Paris; but since it's a business day, they barely make any difference". And even if someone travels abroad at this time, Saint Valentine has nothing to do with it, Mrs. Vand assures.

On the other hand, DSBW Tours qualify mid February as a period of high demand for all destinations. But the company's Deputy Director Mr. Oleg Balakirev doesn't confirm a direct correlation between Valentine's Day and the growing demand. "The demand for this period is higher if compared to the background, as the expert puts it, after all, between mid January and March 8 a period of relative slack usually takes place, making us set out special offers. But there's no need to do it for the Valentine's week, the sales go quite smoothly anyway". Mr. Balakirev added that his company doesn't offer special tours for February 14; the holiday is used as another opportunity to encourage attention of clients.

Albeit Russian lovebirds have been showing little interest in spending the holiday outside the country, they have concerned themselves with domestic destinations. Hotel booking portal Oktogo.ru released a rating of Russian cities mostly booked for Valentine's Day. It includes: Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Krasnodar, Sochi, Rostov-on-Don, Suzdal, Yaroslavl, Vladimir, Kostroma and the Red Glade.

VisitBritain and Russian tour operators count on deferred demand

A recent survey revealed that two thirds of Russian citizens, who had been following the course of London Olympics on TV, would like to spend their next holidays in the UK. Other surveys were carried out after the Games and showed that Russians included Britain with a top 5 tourist and cultural destinations. This was made public by the Strategy and Communications Director of VisitBritain Ms. Patricia Yates during a briefing in Moscow.

Impressive images of the Olympics are not the only thing that can spur the tourist flow from Russia; another thing is the demand, deferred by that same event. Thus, states VisitBritain, over 210 thousand Russians visited the country in 2011 (+20%), but after nine months of 2012 the tourist flow added just 3%. The overall result for 12 months could be higher, but it's still not likely to close such a gap. But it may happen in 2013, fancy Russian tour operators. According to the head of British department of DSBW Company Ms. Irina Folomeyeva, the sales are awfully up-and-going. "Tourists request and book all kinds of summer programs for various dates. We have already sold out March and school holidays; the spring is going pretty well, too. I figure these are the very same journeys that for some reasons, most probably for fear of the Olympic hustle, have failed to come about", she explained to RATA-news.

VisitBritain and tour operators also lay their hopes on a freshman in the Russian market – EasyJet Airline, which is launching non-stop services to Moscow from London and Manchester this March. The new player will definitely complement to a choice of air transportation on the destination, which is quite wide anyway.

British players' interest towards the Russian market is obvious. A Russian tourist spends around ?1450 during his trip, which is three times as much as the average. Besides, he not only stares at sights, he also buys tickets to theaters, art galleries and so on. His cultural needs get along with a crave for shopping, which is just bound to please British tourism authorities. That's why Patricia Yates sees Russia as one of key markets.

By 2020, the flow of Russian tourists is supposed to be increased by 75% to 370 thousand arrivals each year. In 2013, the British tourist board is going to join in with Russian tour operators to carry out a ?100-thousand advertising campaign engaging DSBW Tours, Meridian, Holiday M, BSI Group, Weekends Travel among other venturers. "We are not going to, we are already involved with this campaign", confirms the director of Meridian Company Mr. Alan Sautiyev.