Russian tourism grinds to a half – except to outer space

Some Russians seeking to escape uncertainty at home are clearly choosing to move closer to friends already settled in London. Source: Shutter/Legion Media

Some Russians seeking to escape uncertainty at home are clearly choosing to move closer to friends already settled in London. Source: Shutter/Legion Media

Overseas travel is fast becoming a luxury for cash-strapped Russians, but astronauts still boldly go where others cannot, says Aliya Sayakhova.

“Rich Russians head for UK in record numbers” reads a headline in the FT. Hardly big news, as rich Russians appear to have been invading London since time immemorial, and the frequency with which you can hear Russian spoken walking around Knightsbridge or Hampstead is evidence of it.

Small change

The best indicator however is the number of Russian shelling out for investor visas that cost £1 million for an entry permit good for three years, four months: up 69% this year, says the FT.

Capital flight from Russia is often in the news. The rouble crisis, looming recession in Russia and troubled relations with the west, have boosted that trend. Some Russians seeking to escape uncertainty at home are clearly choosing to move closer to friends already settled in London.

Russian tycoons coming to the UK might be numerous but are not yet counted in their thousands: 162 investor visas were granted to Russians in the first nine months of 2014; 66 more compared with the same period last year. Last month the Immigration Office introduced new rules restricting the nature of investment and doubling the cost to £2 million, “making it harder to obtain visas”, the FT says. The cynic in me doubts this was done to limit the number of applicants, but rather as a money-making measure. It's small change for the wealthy Russians, Kazakhs, Chinese and other potential candidates who can afford luxuries, so why not double the price?

Super-rich visitors to the UK are on the up, but fewer ordinary Russian mortals are coming. The decline in tourist numbers from Russia has hit high-end as well as mass-market European resorts, Middle East and Asian destinations. Patrick Millar, of London-based Kirker Holidays said there has been a slump in demand from Russian guests at five-star hotels in cities such as Paris, Venice, Monaco and Prague: “The Russians who would usually be paying top rate are not there. The hotels are seeing a lot of additional capacity,” quotes the Independent.

Natural beauty

For most Russians who are not planning (or have abandoned plans) to leave, life may not feel very rosy right now: the collapsing rouble, and soaring prices put the prospects of travelling to London and elsewhere way out of reach.  Fortunately, it’s not difficult to bring some colour back into their lives.

Russian politician Igor Chernishev suggests women turn to beetroot instead of lipstick. Those of the fairer sex struggling to afford imported beauty products could now opt for the ‘natural look’ or use beetroot as an alternative to make-up, he said, according to the Daily Mail.

The Siberian senator says beetroot is completely chemical-free and good for the body. He also prefers Moscow-made lingerie to French, though it’s not clear whether it is because synthetic materials are used in the West, or if the designs don't conform to Russian traditions and culture. Lace lingerie imports have been banned in Russia since July in an attempt to protect Russian women from the horrors of wearing man-made materials. The new law, part of a measure introduced by the EU-style Eurasian customs union, prohibits the import, production or sale of synthetic lingerie in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Star struck

One destination that remains untroubled by sanctions or exchange rates is outer space.

The US astronaut and Russian cosmonaut who are preparing for a record-breaking mission on the International Space Station (ISS) say they are unfazed by any turbulence in their countries’ political ties, reports the Guardian. Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko are due to spend a year on the ISS as a test-bed for a future three-year long trip to Mars. Not quite an Interstellar story yet, but as plans for a manned trip to Mars around the 2030 are being discussed, the potential health and psychological risks that cosmonauts might face on such a long journey have to be evaluated, and the ISS offers the best platform for preparation.

For those staying on Earth, there is a great opportunity to learn about the history of space exploration at Cosmonauts. Hosted by London's Science Museum, and originally planned as key event of the 2014 UK-Russia Year of Culture in 2014, it is designed to tell the scientific story of how Russian technological ingenuity launched the Space Age. It is also a visual history of how artists and designers have dreamed of and imagined the cosmos in posters, paintings and photographs during the past century.

Natalia Sidlina, artistic curator, explained at a recent roundtable discussion at the V&A organised by Russian Art and Culture that by the time the exhibition opens in 2015, it will have been three years in the making, but the desire to organise such a show has been around since the break up of the Soviet Union.

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH.

Read more: UK-Russia crossviews

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