Tourism chief tells Russians they 'don't need seaside holidays'

Tourism chief tells Russians they 'don't need seaside holidays'
By bne IntelliNews December 8, 2015

Despite having purchased two holiday homes in the Seychelles, the head of Russia's federal tourism agency is adamant that like their ancestors, Russians don't need to spend their holidays at the seaside.

"The necessity of a beach and the sea is largely an inculcated fad of the past years, that we have taken up as our own opinion," Oleg Safonov said in an interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper on December 7. "Our forefathers, even those who were wealthy, did not travel en masse to foreign coasts," he said.

The official also mentioned China, US, Canada and other countries that do not have "the same stereotypical idea of a holiday as an all-inclusive trip to the seaside in Turkey".   

Yet Safonov himself turns out to be the owner of two villas on the Seychelles islands, as stated in his income declaration posted on his agency's website. Commenting on the fact, Safonov told Dozhd TV that while he indeed had property on the tropical islands he sold the houses earlier this year.

His recommendations to a populace that embraced cheap seaside holiday options in their millions over the years come after Russia imposed sanctions on Turkey for downing one of its warplanes in Syria on November 24.

Flights and tours to Egypt were already suspended  in November after 224 people died in the mid-air bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula. Turkey and Egypt were two of the most popular holiday destinations among Russians, prompting authorities to now talk up domestic vacation options.

"Several options are now closed to us for known reasons, Egypt and Turkey," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said earlier in December. "On the one hand, it's bad, because this reduces people's choices, but on the other hand good because it gives us a chance to stimulate our own touristic routes. We have things to see here in our own country."

Safonov predics that the number of Russians holidaying abroad will fall by 40% in 2016. Speaking to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, he said the climatic conditions in Turkey are very close to those in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. "This peninsula can take twice as many travellers as it does today - up to 10 million people a year," he said in the interview.

However, ordinary Russians aren't convinced Crimea is worth the trip, apart from perhaps to see the results of some Russian strong-arm policy: "Our medium-priced hotel near Yalta was like stepping back into the Soviet Union in terms of service, attitude and facilities," a Moscow housewife told bne IntelliNews after her family traded Turkey for Crimea on their last break.

Meanwhile, to help the eight charter airlines that can no long fly to Turkey due to the government's travel restrictions, the Transport Ministry has asked legislators to remove VAT on internal flights for Russian carriers as a "temporary anti-crisis measure". This is expected to save the airlines RUB25bn ($370mn). 

In attempt to attract more clients, Russian airlines are cutting ticket prices. In December, S7 and Utair airlines launched sales of tickets that don't allow luggage and are up to $30 cheaper than standard economy fares.