ECONOMY

Report calls for wooing more Russian tourists to Greece

Greece must encourage more Russian tourists to visit, says a report by the Institute of Tourism Research and Forecasts (ITEP). Russians are just now emerging as serious tourists, and Greece could attract them with the right strategy. So the institute is asking Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) offices to open information centers and meetings points for tourists in several major Russian cities. In addition to Moscow and St Petersburg, the institute asks for GNTO offices in Ekaterinburg, Nizhni-Novgorod and Rostov. The organization says Russian tourists can help companies and the countries they visit. Visiting Russians spend plenty of money where they travel: One Russian spends, on average, as much as three British or four German tourists. About 5 million Russians travel abroad for pleasure. Add in business and family visits and the figure rises to 11.7 million. In 2002 about 135,000 Russian tourists visited Greece – just 2.7 percent of all tourists – and in 2003 the figure rose by 15.5 percent. In the Mediterranean market, about 7 percent of Russian tourists go to Greece, compared to 33.7 percent who visit Turkey. Russians tend to gravitate toward religious, cultural and winter-related tourism and often want children’s activities included in their itineraries. Even student-age and retired Russians are becoming frequent tourists. Since few Russians speak good English, ITEP says the Culture Ministry should have some signs at museums – or other historical, cultural or religious sites – written in Russian. Educational trips could also be supported by GNTO subsidies to tour operators, as this will lay the groundwork for the future of Russian tourism in Greece. A number of factors could be discouraging a rise in Russian tourism in Greece. These reasons include the difficulty for Russians to get around their country, the need for visas from the Greek consulate offices in Russia, and the continuing decline of the Russian population since 2000. ITEP is asking the Foreign Ministry to curb limitations imposed by the Schengen Treaty regarding entry to most old EU members. There have been some serious efforts to alleviate this problem, but preparing visa applications is still difficult and the process lasts about three days. The proposed development of religious tourism could also increase tourism not only from Russia but also from other Orthodox countries.