Girls pose for a photograph in the 2016 Quiksilver New Star Сamp at the Gorky Gorod ski resort in Krasnaya Polyana.Artur Lebedev/TASS
Despite the ongoing economic crisis, many Russians are still planning to go abroad for the New Year holidays. The leading hot destinations are now dominated by Southeast Asia and Turkey, which have at least in part replaced Egypt, currently inaccessible to Russians for security reasons.
However, the vast majority of Russians will opt for a domestic vacation, traveling elsewhere in Russia, primarily to ski resorts. Both groups will tend to travel, so to say, "crisis class," i.e. choosing cheaper tickets and accommodation.
Ski resorts are the top winter destination in 2016/2017. Tour operators expect unprecedented demand for ski tours in Russia. "The resorts of Krasnaya Polyana, Dombai and Elbrus," said Sergei Romashkin, head of tour operator Delfin, when asked to list destinations where most Russians tourists go to ski.
According to him, the price leader is Krasnaya Polyana: There are more four and five-star hotels there, whereas Dombai and Elbrus have many guesthouses and two and three-star hotels. The average cost of a package tour in the domestic tourism market is now estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000 rubles.
However, according to data from the Russian travel company Tez Tour, demand for foreign tours has grown this year. "Austria is on top," said Tez Tour. "Bulgaria, Andorra, Italy and France are traditionally popular."
As a weak ruble makes foreign travel less accessible to the average Russian, the domestic tourism market is experiencing unprecedented growth. "This year has turned out to be very successful, we can say a record one for domestic tourism," said Romashkin.
In 2016, companies specializing in domestic tourism saw sales jump by 20-30 percent. "And we are waiting for the same growth during the New Year holidays," said Romashkin.
This year, tour operators have noted a significant new trend: Russian tourists who previously planned their trips, especially for the New Year holidays, in advance, have begun to delay their decision as long as they can.
As a result, as the flight, hotel and car rental search engine Skyscanner estimated recently, Russians overpaid 6.4 billion rubles (almost $100 million) in 2015 just because they purchased tickets at the last moment. According to Skyscanner's estimates, Russia has become the most "spontaneous" of all European countries: Almost 40 percent of Russian travelers do not plan their flights in advance, although this approach costs them much more.
The vast majority of tourists try diligently to save. "Now 80 percent of the clicks are the cheapest flights: People are willing to get to Thailand even with three transfers," said Janis Dzenis, PR director of Aviasales. "Of course, we have travelers who fly to Mauritius for People's Unity Day for half a million rubles, but they are a minority."
The most popular New Year destination for beach lovers until recently was Egypt. No flights are currently operating between Russia and Egypt due to security fears after a terrorist bomb destroyed a Russian passenger airliner leaving the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Oct. 31, 2015. However, since there is no beach tourism in Russia in the winter, new destinations have rapidly emerged to fill the vacant niche.
"There is a huge demand today for Southeast Asia because the Egyptian flow partially shifted there – both budget and VIP tourism," said Maya Kotlyar, CEO of MAYEL Travel.
"The demand for New Year trips to countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, India (to Goa) and Sri Lanka is very high. They will enter the top most sought-after destinations in the season along with Russia, and will do so in the mass segment."
Turkey, which at the end of June became accessible again for Russian tourists, could become a real New Year hit with a number of tour operators. According to the analytical service of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), the country became the leader in outbound tourism as early as the beginning of fall. In particular, according to ATOR, with the beginning of charter flight programs to Turkey, sales figures rose by 113 percent against the same period last year.
Turkey has a huge number of loyal visitors, many of whom are not willing to even consider anything else. According to Tez Tour's PR director Larisa Akhanova, Turkey has become the undisputed leader in the company's sales of Christmas package vacations.
However, some Russians will go to Europe, which can be reached economically by train or bus.
According to Ilya Yekushevsky, co-founder of the bus ticket search and sale system Busfor, a trip between Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tallinn – with the possibility of taking a stroll around St. Petersburg on Dec. 31 and making it to the Estonian capital in time for the New Year – will cost only 3,350 rubles ($50).
On Dec. 31, discounts on tickets for different types of transport can reach almost 50 percent. The Federal Passenger Company has reported that New Year train travel will be 15 percent cheaper than in the preceding days for places in open-plan sleeping (platzkartny) and sitting (sidyachy) cars, with discounts on compartment (kupeiny) cars also expected.
This article has been abridged. The full version in Russian is available here.
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