Russia Country Market
Insights and Opportunities
Travel & Tourism Sector
Overview: With a population of over 140 million, Russia is the ninth largest outbound market in the world. Over 20 million Russians traveled abroad in 2009. As the growing Russian middle class discovers new routes that cater to their tastes and budget, U.S. destinations are becoming more popular among Russian tourists. Direct passenger flights to the United States, simplified U.S. visa procedures and the depreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Euro have helped make travel to the United States more attractive and affordable for Russian travelers. It is estimated that the average Russian tourist spends about $250 a day in the U.S. While the recent financial crisis interrupted the rapid positive dynamics of the Russian T&T market, experts’ longer-term forecasts are favorable.
Opportunities: Increased prices for domestic travel destinations and the development of outbound travel services triggered Russians’ growing interest to travel to destinations outside Russia. Turkey, China and Egypt have held the top places in the number of Russian tourists for the past several years. These countries, along with Finland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and Thailand still constitute the core of mass tourism destinations for Russian travelers. However, recent outbound traffic statistics indicate that, in addition to traditional warm and seaside destinations, more Russians are choosing countries where they may supplement time on the beach with other activities, such as cultural and sporting events, shopping and recreation. Moreover, Russians who have traveled to Asia and Europe in the past are willing to explore destinations other than those they have already visited. While the activity may be similar, the different destination is appealing. For example, skiers who have visited the Alps for their proximity look to Colorado, Utah and Vermont for their next trip.
The popularity of the United States as a tourist destination has grown steadily since 2003, after a downward trend following the events of September 11, 2001. Russian tourist numbers accelerated dramatically over the last few years. According to international arrival data from the Office of Travel and Tourism at the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of Russians traveling to the United States totaled 115,000 in 2007, up 21% from 2006. In 2008, it reached 143,000, a record annual increase of 25%. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Commercial Service Moscow, while Russian tour operators specializing in U.S. destinations had been concerned that the economic crisis would affect their business in 2009, they did not notice any significant changes in the number of U.S. tours their agencies booked in the beginning of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008. The latest statistical data also confirm this observation: U.S. destinations are among the few that do not show any significant change in the 2009 arrival numbers compared with those of 2008.
An important factor accounting for the steady growth in the number of Russian travelers to the United States is the significant improvement in the visa application process that has taken place within the last two years. The U.S. Embassy has made great progress in streamlining the process in the face of a rapidly growing number of applications and has made visa information available online in Russian. Applicants are now able to send their application fee and supporting documents to the Embassy via a courier service with offices across Russia and have the opportunity to secure a two-year, multiple entry visa. For those wishing to renew a visa, the requirement to appear for an interview is often waived. Russian tour operators are also educating their travelers regarding these improvements. The availability of visa information online has made it possible to counter the market’s impression that U.S. visas are expensive, difficult to obtain and take a long time to process.
Another significant improvement is the fact that more airlines, both U.S. and international, have launched non-stop service connecting Moscow with U.S. destinations. Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Aeroflot Russian Airlines, and Singapore Airlines all offer direct flights to U.S. cities. Delta flies to New York and Atlanta; United flies to Washington, DC; Aeroflot to New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles; and Singapore Airlines to Houston. This is a reflection of the growing market demand for this kind of service. As the market becomes more educated about U.S. destinations, visa processing, flight availability and purchase value, the Russian market will look increasingly to the United States for tourist destinations.
The Visit USA Russia committee is in the process of registering as an official Russian organization. It has already attracted 40 companies interested in further development of Russian outbound travel to the United States.