The European Union has imposed restrictions on Russians traveling to Europe due to the invasion of Ukraine, with some countries – such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland and the Czech Republic – even going until a total ban. These constraints have opened up new markets around the world for the Russian tourism industry.

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Known for its tropical beaches, lush rice paddies and volcanic mountains, Bali is a popular tourist destination that attracts travelers from all over the world. But this Indian Ocean island began to see an increase in a specific category of visitors last year: some 58,000 Russians visited Bali in 2022. And in January 2023 alone, the number of tourists from Russia reached 22,500, according to Indonesian government data, making Russians the second largest contingent of foreign travelers behind Australians.

On the other side of the world, another story is being written. “Paris saw a 95.8% drop in the number of Russian tourists arriving by air between January and May 2023 [par rapport à 2019]”, says a spokesperson for the Paris tourist office. And during the summer months, the increase in Russian arrivals in the French capital – one of the most visited cities in Europe – is expected to be less than 1%.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it has become much more difficult for Russians to travel to the European Union. Obtaining travel visas is more expensive and complex, Russian airlines are banned from flying over and into the EU, and Russian oligarchs can no longer land their private jets wherever they want.

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Added to these restrictions is the prospect of a hostile reception for Russian tourists. Just over a year after invading Ukraine, Russia is now widely seen in EU countries as “an adversary”, according to a January poll in several European countries.

However, millions of Russians continue to travel. In 2022, some 22.5 million outbound trips were made by Russian tourists, compared to 19.2 million in 2021.

While Turkey is their main destination, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the Maldives and Egypt are also among the countries that have seen the biggest boom in Russian visitors.

Tourism cooperation agreements in shambles

Russia occupied in 2021 the 14e international tourism ranks with spending of around $11.4 billion, according to Statista.

And if Europe is ready to deprive itself of Russian tourists, the countries of the rest of the world intend to take their share of the market. For example, Sri Lanka, Morocco and Thailand plan to open direct air links with Russia to facilitate travel, while India, Burma and Oman have recently held talks with Moscow in a bid to increase the number of tourists from Russia.

Similarly, Iran signed an agreement with Russia on May 19 to boost tourism cooperation between the two countries, just days after Cuba signed a similar agreement aimed at reaching 500,000 Russian visitors a year.

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For some countries, boosting Russian tourism is a way to balance economic ties with Russia. Turkey is one of the biggest consumers of Russian energy in the world and its tourist industry is largely dependent on Russian holidaymakers. However, this was not affected by the war in Ukraine. “Turkey has not imposed sanctions on Russia, so it has become the number one destination for Russian tourists,” said Faruk Balli, a professor at the School of Economics and Finance at Massey University in New Zealand. .

Conversely, in Cyprus and Greece, the lack of Russian tourists – who have represented a large proportion of visitors so far – has damaged the economy and prompted a rethinking of tourism models.

96.1% drop in the number of foreign tourists to Russia

The situation is not at all the same in Paris. “Russian visitors generally represent 1% of all tourists,” said a spokesperson for the Paris tourist office.

In contrast, Russia suffers significant economic losses related to tourism. The number of foreign visitors going there fell by 96.1% in 2022 compared to the figures before the Covid pandemic, in 2019, according to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, European and American tourists, in particular, shun Russia: Western sanctions have made it difficult to travel there due to flight restrictions and the impossibility of using Visa cards in the country. and Mastercard issued by foreign banks.

The Russian government is therefore trying to encourage domestic tourism to revitalize the sector, while stepping up its efforts to attract other international visitors. Plans are being made to coordinate the Russian payment system Mir with the Indian equivalent RuPay and to remove the need for a Russian visa for visitors from certain Arab and Latin American countries.

The return of Chinese tour groups in February 2023, after the lifting of travel restrictions related to Covid-19, is also highlighted to show that Russia remains a thriving tourist destination. Russian state media reported that the number of Chinese visitors to Russia could return to pre-pandemic levels within the next three years.

Adapted from English by Romain Brunet. The original version can be read here.