My first visit to Russia was in December 2010 (yes, Russia in DECEMBER!) when it was minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time, I wouldn’t have described the ground as snow covered – it was more like blocks of ice. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to go back four more times, visiting both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Amazing and interesting, Russia is filled with many surprises.
Russia is the world’s largest nation. Bordered by both Europe and Asia, it has everything from a beach, to forests, to mountains, to major cities. This diverse country has over 144 million people, which is two times the size of the U.K.’s population and about 50% less than the U.S.
To drive across Russia (about 10,500 km) from the most western city of Kaliningrad to the most eastern city of Vladivostok, it takes around 6.5 days. By train, it takes seven days with over 80 stops. And to fly, it takes 11 hours. To put into context the immensity of the country, you could fly or drive from New York to San Francisco and back again more quickly.
Visiting Russia is not easy, but it’s not impossible. A visa is needed by most nationals, but there are some exceptions. For example, a U.K. national can easily get a Russian tourist visa from the processing center in London; it involves completing a long form and answering a few questions, but it’s attainable.
There is an incredible amount to see and explore when in Russia. Moscow is, of course, the largest city – just standing in the middle of Red Square leaves you amazed. This iconic, historical site is one that every student learns about at school.
(Image Source: Chris Robinson)
In St. Petersburg, you cannot fail just to walk the canals, explore the architecture and watch the trams run up and down the streets. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which took the years between 1883 and 1907 to build, is simply a stunning building.
(Image Source: Chris Robinson)
Russia has seven major airports open to passenger travel, with three located in Moscow and others in St. Petersburg, Simferopol, Koltsovo and Sochi (home of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the annual Russian Formula One race). There is also a major train service to several European countries, such as Austria, Germany and Hungary.
Next year, Russia will host the 2018 soccer FIFA World Cup across 11 cities which presents a massive opportunity for Russia to “sell” itself to the world, plus there is a major opportunity for residents to experience the country.
Outbound travel from Russia in 2016 was tough, as the FX rate between the ruble and the U.S. dollar (USD) dramatically changed. In January 2014, 3 rubles bought just over $1 USD, now it takes around 5.5 rubles to get $1 USD, but in early 2016, it was as high as 10 rubles to the dollar. This made overseas Russian travel expensive and unaffordable. The good news is, the foreign-exchange rate has improved and continues to ensure that Russian nationals can travel the world.
In a recent study by Russian Tourism, it identified, like any national market, there are, of course, different types of consumers in Russia. There are those who visit places like Thailand and Southern Europe to see the sun and relax. Then there are those in the travel market who visit such destinations as UAE, France and Germany – all popular with the Russian consumer.
The internet in Russia is a little different than most countries, with Yandex being the largest search engine. For more information on that, check out this blog from Petra Baer on the differences between Google and Yandex at http://www.mdsdecoded.com/blog/can-you-yandex-it-please/.
According to Live Internet Stats, since 2015, the number of Russian internet users has grown by over 30% to 102 million, which is just around 71% of the population. The U.S. is currently at 88% internet usage, so room to grow for sure!
While Yandex is Russia’s largest search engine, it has many other services, including:
- Yandex.direct, an auction-based, text-based ad-placement platform
- Yandex Maps
- Yandex.money, which is like PayPal
- Yandex.taxi, a similar service to Uber
The key with this is, the internet in Russia is growing and the digital community/consumer base is growing. Though the market is complicated, especially because of the language difference, nothing is impossible. If you understand and get it right, the opportunity to attract a new market is clear.
Marriott International recently launched a new Russian website, www.marriott.com.ru. Now Russian-speaking travelers can book hotels around the world in their native language.Read More