Indian tourists urged to go beyond Moscow and St Petersburg

A man photographs a stuffed bear at the Museum of Wooden Architecture in Suzdal during Maslenitsa festivities.

A man photographs a stuffed bear at the Museum of Wooden Architecture in Suzdal during Maslenitsa festivities.

Vladimir Vyatkin/RIA Novosti
Russian and Indian authorities are committed to energize bilateral relations with more tourism exchanges between the two countries. The Indian travel industry is bullish on Russia as a yet to be explored alternative for Indian tourists.

Russia could easily become one of the new destinations for Indian travellers, provided it gets more promotion through various mediums, including newspapers and magazines, TV shows and social media, travel industry experts said during the Indo-Russian Tourism Exchange conference in Mumbai hosted by the Russian Centre for Science and Culture (RCSC).

The event, organized by Mumbai-based Russian Information Centre (RIC) and Russian House in Delhi, with support of RCSC Mumbai, gathered tourism authorities and businesses from both countries to discuss ways of increasing tourist exchanges between the countries. Several initiatives undertaken by the Indian and Russian tourism ministries and the non-commercial industry bodies aim to promote best travel destinations in their respective countries among tour operators, travel agencies and journalists to boost tourism exchange.

“We are planning to organize familiarization tours to multiple destinations in Russia for both Indian tour operators and organized press-tours for Indian media so that Russia gets more promotion here in India,” Ekaterina Belyakova, the head of RIC told RIR. 

Belyakova said RIC is trying to promote not just Moscow and St Petersburg, the two most popular travel destinations in Russia, but other attractions like Russia’s “golden ring”, a collection of towns North-East of Moscow, including Vladimir, Suzdal, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Rostov Velikiy, Pereslavl-Zalesskiy, SergievPosad, representing Russia’s medieval history and culture. Other yet to be explored destinations are in the Russian Far East and Crimea, both promising very unique experiences with nature and the culture of Russia.

Bilateral initiatives

While India, particularly states like Goa and Kerala, has been among the favourite destinations for Russian tourists, with numbers of Russians visiting these states during season exceeding 200,000 (lakhs) in peak season, Russia is yet to be explored by Indian tourists. According to Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism, only 23,304 Indian tourists visited Russia during the first nine months of 2015. However, this is 67 per cent more than in 2014, when Russia received only 13,966 tourists from India. 

Satish Soni, Director of Tourism, Government of Maharashtra and Joint Managing Director of Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. (MTDC) said Maharashtra, which has its own attractions like Alibaug beach or the ancient Ajanta and Ellora caves, is eyeing an opportunity to cooperate with Russian tourism authorities.

“MTDC has two MOU agreements with Wakayama in Japan and Quebec in Canada for cooperation between both the governments in sharing best practices for development of responsible and sustainable tourism, and something like this could be done with Russia,” he said. Soni proposed among various initiatives to encourage cooperation in the sphere of tourism between the city of Pune, considered the cultural centre of Maharashtra state, and St Petersburg, recognized as cultural capital of Russia.

The event in Mumbai was planned as a platform to sign MOUs between the Kerala Department of Tourism, the St Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development and the Crimean Ministry of Resorts and Tourism. The signing, however, was postponed till March end because of some bureaucratic hurdles from the Russian side, sources close to Russian Tourism authorities said. According to Belyakova, once the MOUs are in place, the regional tourism authorities of Russia and India will be able to exchange information, ideas and use each other’s tourism facilities like information centres and portals to promote various destinations and activities.

Common barriers

Russia is a destination many people are interested in, but people are very sceptical about going there, Sampath Damani, Chairman, Western Region, Indian Association of Travel Agents said in the interview with RIR on the sidelines of the event.

“First reason is language and second is food. While food has now been taken care of, language is still something that needs to be improved,” he said adding that India and Russia share a good relationship and have extensive cultural ties which helps Russian win in the competition with other similar destinations, for example, China.

“Another problem that we are facing is the facility of getting visas. If bureaucratic hurdles are taken care of, the tourism will increase,” Sampath Damani added.

Manu Kashyap, Director at Windmill Holidays, an agency providing tailored tours for independent tourists around the world, believes Russia has a huge potential but needs a large-scale promotion among Indian tourists who want to explore more than just Moscow and St Petersburg.

“Not only tourists, the trade needs to get educated about Russia first. It is such a huge region which has 11 time zones, and till now it has been restricted to two cities. Even St Petersburg is mostly sold as a part of Scandinavian cruise tours,” she pointed out. She, too, believes Russia is “less reachable” for Indian tourist because of visa issues and the language barrier. “We need to have more articles, film shorts, more people visiting Russia. It also would help if Russia becomes more reachable for the youngsters in India through education programmes, this can be the way to promote the country,” Kashyap added.

Connectivity is one of the issues trade experts indicate: Russia is connected to India directly only via Moscow- New Delhi flights. According to Sergey Kidisyuk, General manager at Russia’s Aeroflot airlines for India, Nepal and Bangladesh, the company is not planning to introduce direct flights to any other cities of India rather than New Delhi in the near future because of concerns of economic feasibility. On the positive side, Aeroflot has launched a second flight from Delhi to Moscow from 1st March 2016. 

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