There are a lot of Indians, and the Arabs are very rich. But will it be possible to lure them into the city?
Alexander Dybin, St. Petersburg
During the summer tourist season, St. Petersburg was visited by 6.4 million people. This is more than in all of 2021. But the vast majority of these tourists are Russians. Such a tourist flow is good, but compatriots are still not like foreigners. Our tourists are trying to save money, and most importantly, they know how to do it, because they are at home. For example, they try not to rent hotel rooms, but apartments or hostels with a kitchen in order to cook and not spend on food in establishments. And they are not so greedy for souvenirs and instead of organized excursions they can visit palaces and parks on their own. In all respects, a Russian tourist is not as interesting to a representative of the hospitality industry as a foreigner. But where to get it, foreign tourist? Europe practically does not travel to Russia due to the aggravation of relations with the West, and China closed during the pandemic. But the St. Petersburg authorities believe that if one door is closed, then another will open somewhere.
As Sergei Markov , First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for External Relations of St. Petersburg, said at a meeting with hoteliers, the city expects to establish tourist flows from India and Arab countries. They are now working closely on this, sending delegations, hosting representatives of these countries, in general, they are trying to reach an agreement.
“Yes, we live in a difficult period, but the greatest capital is made during crises,” said Sergey Markov, “if earlier we exploited our geographical position, being close to Europe, we did not look far. But now they are looking further afield. A typical example is India. It is a strategic priority partner. Petersburg is also trying to build relationships. Not so long ago, our delegation to Mumbai visited India together with Moscow. Presented the possibilities of our city. We were visited by a group of Indian tour operators. There are prospects. Trade turnover with India grew by 20 percent only in St. Petersburg. India can become the second Chinese flow, maybe it will be better than Chinese.”
There is also a practical expression of these negotiations, according to Markov, agreements have been practically reached on the launch of five flights a week from St. Petersburg to Mumbai: three direct, two via Makhachkala.
“But, one must understand and prepare to receive these tourists,” says Sergey Markov, “each national group has its own characteristics related to religion or nutrition. We accept Iranian tourists, we know that there are requirements for halal food, rooms, India also has its own peculiarities.”
According to the head of the representative office of the federation of restaurateurs and hoteliers of Russia in St. Petersburg, Alexander Markov , in the case of the reception of Indians, there are certain nutritional requirements.
“For the reception of Indians, ready-made infrastructure is important, a lot of attention is paid to the availability of Indian food, while they do not like to constantly eat in the same restaurant, you need to change places, but there must be authentic food,” the expert says. - But the topic is very promising. Before the pandemic, the Indian market was ten times smaller than the Chinese one, although the countries are comparable in terms of population. There is potential for growth there."
The second promising direction is the Arab world.
“This is an undiscovered niche for St. Petersburg,” says Sergey Markov, deputy head of the Committee for Foreign Relations of St. Petersburg, “Russia's relations with this region have changed significantly. An Arab tourist is rich, he needs to prepare an expensive, memorable program that will surprise him. Moreover, they can come in the low season, snow is exotic for them and you can play on it.
Another promising partner, according to the official, is Serbia. Of course, in terms of the number of potential tourists, this country is not like India, but in terms of solvency - Saudi Arabia, but this is a matter of principle.
“Serbia is one of the countries in Europe that continues cooperation with Russia in Europe and does not impose sanctions, this is valuable for us,” Sergei Markov said.
In addition, St. Petersburg is eyeing Latin America. From the point of view of tourism, we are, of course, as far as possible from each other, but there is interest.
Another issue is money. It is important that desires coincide with opportunities. The hoteliers asked the official about this, whether there are calculations, and how much tourists from these countries are generally willing to pay for a trip to snowy St. Petersburg and whether the city is ready to accept them for this money and what it can offer for this amount. However, no such market research has been conducted so far.
Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were the most numerous in Russia and, accordingly, in St. Petersburg. In 2019, according to rough estimates, about 300,000 Chinese residents visited the northern capital. But the market was skeptical about this flow, because the Chinese paid most of the money to their own, here, as a rule, they were accepted by the Chinese owners of hotels, catering establishments, leisure organizers, and souvenir sellers. Payments went through Chinese services without tax deductions in the Russian Federation. It was impossible to get past the Russian ticket office except in museums and parks, but even there groups were led by Chinese guides.
But now there are no such tourists, and it is believed that the pandemic is just a formal reason. In reality, the travel ban was connected with political processes within the country, in particular, the company's congress, which took place not so long ago. Polina Rysakova , director of the Chinese Tourism Research Laboratory, says that the market has become hopeful that the Chinese will return to Russia, although the CBO factor remains, which may also influence this decision.
“At the moment, there are no forecasts, but there is still hope for a partial easing of exit restrictions by the Chinese New Year, that is, by February - spring,” the expert says, “but these are expectations, in China itself, restrictions are not removed even after the congress. If in the end some flow goes, then it will be much less than before. But more expensive in terms of costs for tourists, perhaps these will be just those higher-quality tourists that we so much wanted to see.”
At the same time, Chinese tourists have been leaving for Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong for a long time.
The head of the representative office of the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers of Russia in St. Petersburg Alexander Markov , arguing about whether it will be possible to start working with Chinese tourists from scratch, says that the authorities should play a key role in this matter.
“Before the pandemic, we actively discussed this topic and thought about how to reconfigure these processes,” the expert says. - But this is not a business issue, it is a matter of adjusting tax and control legislation. I do not see a super-task here, everything fits into practice, we are constantly talking about whitewashing the business, about control. But during the same pandemic, some law-abiding restaurants closed, and some were closed with blackout curtains and guests were allowed in according to a code word. If the state can control it, then it’s good, if it can’t, then we need to learn.”