''Let’s go and see'': outbound tourist traffic from Russia breaks all records after a nosedive

About whether the devaluation of lira will lead to a greater popularity of Turkey and why Syria is a centre of business tourism

The Russians' trips abroad rose by 24% in 2017, while tourist traffic itself increased 1,5 times. After a catastrophic 30% fall in 2015-2016, the crisis in tourism is behind. But will it last for long in the light of the next devaluation of the ruble? Realnoe Vremya's analytic staff studied tourist traffic data in 2017 and the first half in 2018 and tried to find out whether one should urgently fly to Turkey that is back to tourism Olympus ''while everything is cheap there'' and if we can hope mass tourist flow will return to Egypt with the renewed direct flight to Cairo. In addition, we found out politics affected inbound tourism quite selectively.

After catastrophe: tourist traffic from Russia increased 1,5 times

According to the Russian State Statistics Service, the number of tours of Russian citizens abroad in 2016 reduced by almost 8% and totalled 32,7 million (according to Realnoe Vremya, it's 33,8 million). Moreover, as it was said at the moment, the reduction of outbound tourism traffic in the same 2016 slowed down: the reduction in 2015 was equal to 20% in comparison with 2014. It's obvious it's linked with the economic crisis and devaluation of the ruble, which suddenly lowered the Russian population's purchasing power. Judging by the Russian State Statistics Service's latest data, the tourism crisis in 2017 was behind: the quantity of Russians abroad rose by almost a quarter (by 24,1%) and amounted to 42 million.

Get Egypt back: no tourist traffic recovery without charter flights to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh

An inevitable thing became the main news: the comeback of Turkey to tourism Olympus and first signs of the return of Egypt to the same Olympus. As it's known, the Russians' once favourite countries were eliminated from popular destinations in 2016: Turkey lost 77%, only 842,300 people went there, a bit more than half of them were tourists (481,400); there were registered only 2,300 trips in 2016 to Egypt. It should be reminded flights to Egypt stopped after the crash of Airbus A321 above the Sinai (en route from Sharm El Sheikh to Saint Petersburg) in autumn 2015. The flights were renewed only on 11 April 2018 when Aeroflot and Egypt Air began to operate flights between Moscow and Cairo again.

However, experts and tour operators suppose tourist traffic to Egypt can't recover without opening flights to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, ''as it's not comfortable to use flights to Cairo to send a big number of tourists''. Today fans of a holiday in Egypt get to same Hurghada via Istanbul.

Turkey is back to inbound Olympus winning both Abkhazia and Finland after 'political fall'

Turkey dropped from the statistics for a similar reason: Turkish F-16 jet downed the Russian Su-24 that ''was bombarding ISIS facilities (Editor's Note: a terrorist organisation banned in Russia) near the Syrian-Turkish border in autumn 2015 allegedly because the latter crossed the state border, which immediately affected relations between Turkey and Russia. After the incident, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it didn't recommend Russians to visit this country explaining it by ''growing terrorist attack threats in Turkey''. Following a recommendation of the Russian Agency for Tourism, tour operators stopped selling tours to Turkey. The visa-free regime also was interrupted from 1 January 2016. In the end, if there were 4,2 million flights from Russia to Turkey in 2014, there were registered 3,4 million tours in 2015 and just 842,300 in 2016.

In June 2016, after an attempted coup, officials of Turkey decided to recover relations with Russia. And tourist traffic to this country was renewed. As a consequence, the Russians' trips grew five times (including tourists): there were registered 4,65 million outbound trips, their majority – 3,3 million – are tourists. So last year the Turkish destination became an absolute leader since 2013: both Abkhazia (4,3m) and Finland (3,6m) lost to Turkey.

How will devaluation of ruble and lira affect tourist traffic to Turkey and other countries?

The rest of the season will show if Turkey becomes a leader in 2018. It's obvious that several key factors influence the popularity of the destination and the growth in number of Russians' trips abroad, in general. Firstly, it's geopolitical (the cut in relations with Turkey dramatically changed the landscape of the tourism market, even temporarily). Secondly, it's a factor of stability in the country (this is why Egypt where the situation still leaves a lot to be desire continues causing fear among many Russians). The third and major factor is economic.

If significant changes in Turkey don't happen right now, we can presuppose that Turkey will become cheaper in the future (in the end Abkhazia, Crimea and Krasnodar Krai will suffer). But there is a second factor here: the ruble has also dropped against the dollar due to US sanctions, even not as catastrophically as lira. And not all economists are sure the ruble's short nosedive will stop here. In the end, we can say that tourist traffic to Turkey directly depends on the ''race of the ruble and lira'' even in the short run, not to mention a long-term term. In any case, we won't have to talk about a considerable rise in the Turkish destination with the really painful devaluation of the ruble: tourism isn't a good or essential service anyway, it's one of the first victims of the economy. The ruble's devaluation has already affected in the short run – flight prices have risen by 5%.

Tunisia in top 10 favourite countries of Russians for the first time, but not for long

As strange as it might sound, China is second where 30% of Russians started to fly to more: if there were registered 668,800 trips to the Celestial Kingdom in 2016, the number already reached 865,100 in 2017. Thailand with 821,600 trips (18% growth) whom our compatriots liked closes the top. They are followed by Spain (764,300), Greece (693,000)? Italy (676,140), Cyprus (661,800), Germany (650,000), the UAE (610,800) and Tunisia (470,500). Here we can conclude that the Russians go abroad, first of all, on a holiday, as only Germany doesn't have access to southern seas among the ten popular tourist destinations.

We will also note that Tunisia has been in the top 10 for the first time despite its almost 20% reduction of popularity. And it seems it won't be in the top 10 next year. So this May the Russian Agency for Tourism has urged tour operators who sell tours to this country to tell their clients about the unstable situation in it: ''There can be protest campaigns of the population and university unrest due to social and economic problems in Tunisia, especially in the capital and southern districts of the country; moreover, terrorist attacks of ISIS rebels (a terrorist organisation banned in Russia) aren't excluded. But traffic to Tunisia already heavily reduced in the first half of 2018 (it seems Russians began to receive the local news earlier), 200,000 people have been there at the moment.

How Russians' business trips influenced sanctions and cooler relations with the West

The UAE is in the top 10 countries with the biggest number of business trips: 33,000 people from Russia were there in 2017, and 14,400 have already flown to this country in 2018. The business top 3 includes Kazakhstan (101,570), Germany (57,800) and China (57,800). The UAE is followed by Turkey (31,000), Korea (30,200), France (23,500), the Netherlands (21,600) and Switzerland (19,600). However, political relations between countries and the same sanctions directly influence business trips. So two Muslim countries with a bigger number of trips than European countries have been in the top 10 in the first 6 months in 2018. Firstly, people already managed to fly from Russia to Syria 16,400 times despite the war, which, however, can be explained by not business relations but agreed relations of the Russian Ministry of Defence. Secondly, Uzbekistan is 7 th in this rating (11,500 trips).

Cooler relations between the countries as a consequence of the Skripals' case as well as new sanctions also affected business trips to Great Britain: the number of trips to this country already reduced by 4,5% and totalled 18,300 in 2013 and have fallen to 8,200 in 2018. This means the bar of 18,000 trips is unlikely to be reached by the end of the year. It's interesting that political relations slightly affect purely tourist traffic to the USA and Great Britain, though the number of visits of Russians to these countries, of course, is incomparable with popular tourist destinations. So the quantity of tourist trips to Great Britain grew by 27,5% in 2017 (from 105,200 to 134,200). However, this had happened before the Skripals poisoning in March 2018.

By Sergey Afanasyev