It is official – Russian tourists are back among the big spenders. A survey of Russian households by market research firm Ipsos Comcon, presented on the first day of the MITT 2017 travel exhibition in Moscow, has shown that total spend by Russians holidaying abroad rose an incredible 40% over 2016 – even though the actual number of tourists declined over the same period.
This is encouraging news for destinations offering premium or higher-end holidays to Russian customers, as it shows the top end of the market has survived the recent troubles. On the other hand, the real effect of the last couple of years has been at the bottom end, where Russian tourists on a lower budget have stayed at home.
The study by Ipsos Comcon also looked into the sector split of Russian tourism in 2016. Resort, sightseeing and skiing travel all suffered falls in numbers in 2016 – although the relative fall in skiing holidays abroad is partly related to the fact that Russia is developing world-class ski resorts of its own, like Sochi. One area to see growth, however, was visiting friends and relatives tourism (VFR) – this grew 5% as the Russian diaspora in Europe and elsewhere continued to swell.
Russia is a big country – and the tourist flows are very different the further east you go in the country. Almost all Russian visitors to Thailand come from the Volga federal district and further east, while 90% of St. Petersburg’s outbound tourists go to Finland. At a national level, Europe is still responsible for over half of all travel (51%), with Asia taking 35% and Africa (almost exclusively north Africa) on 18%. All regions suffered a fall in levels of outbound travel in 2016, but this was compensated for by the increased spend.
What about the outlook for 2017? As Russia starts to emerge from its slump, the key drivers of tourism demand look promising. The Russian rouble has recovered from the disastrous rate of 18 months ago to almost reach 60 to the euro. This in turn has boosted the economy; oil prices are back at the $50 mark; and the Russian economy is forecast to no longer be in recession in 2017.
This improved situation has filtered down to the pocket of Russian tourists. 36% of Russians surveyed by Ipsos Comcon are now in the income bracket that usually travels. This is a 4% rise from 2015 – showing a slow and steady recovery in the base of Russian tourism.
Even though budget travel numbers fell in 2016, the survey had good news for this segment too. The bottom of the Russian outbound travel market is falling away, therefore means many Russians are no longer travelling abroad. This means pent-up demand in the market, as those who have had to skip a holiday will be even keener to travel abroad now they have money in their pockets again. With premium travel in such a healthy state, and a wave of demand just waiting to be unleashed, the survey paints a rosy picture for the Russian outbound travel market in 2017.
Speaking of positivity in the Russian travel market, the first day of MITT was a busy one. Thousands of visitors came through the doors on 14 March to see the destinations on display – including Turkey, making a convincing return to the Russian outbound travel market with an entire pavilion at MITT, Partner Country Spain, and hundreds of other destinations from all around the world.