Russian tourism wave expected

The good relations between Greece and Russia, as highlighted by the signing of the deal for the South Stream natural gas pipeline this week, extend to many other economic sectors, including tourism. The recent talks in Moscow between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the interest of the two countries in further developing their relations in the tourism domain. For Greek tourism, Russia is one of the most important emerging markets according to estimates about the potential for attracting tourism and due to the business interest that major tour operators have shown in recent years. Already this year, bookings and air tickets sold are auspicious for the numbers of Russian tourists who will visit Greece. In 2007, some 234,000 Russians acquired visas and visited this country, which represents a rise of 15 percent compared with 2006. The Greek tourism heads, who were present at the two major travel fairs in Russia (Intourmarket and MITT last March), indicate that this year Russian tourists in Greece will increase by 25-30 percent. The exact rate of increase will depend on the pace of visa issuing. The shortening of the time this process takes for Greek consular authorities has been one of the main reasons why tourism traffic from Russia has increased steadily in the last three years. Russians display particular interest in new forms of tourism such as religious, medical and sea tourism. The Orthodox religion shared by the two peoples is a great advantage for attracting a higher number of Russian tourists. The latter are increasingly choosing destinations such as Crete (up 35 percent), Halkidiki (up 20 percent), Athens (up 12 percent) and Rhodes (up 8 percent). They also show keen interest in other destinations such as Myconos, Kos and Cephalonia. Last year, some 9.37 million Russians traveled abroad for tourism, posting a rise of 21 percent since 2006. This is gradually making Russia one of the most dynamic countries in tourism across the world. Greek National Tourism Organization data show Russians prefer traveling to Turkey (2 million annually), ahead of China and Egypt. In 2007, approximately 36,000 Greeks visited Russia, 22,000 of them for tourism. A survey by Athens International Airport showed that last year 27,319 Russians traveled to Athens, a 20 percent increase over 2006. Vacations were the reason why 52 percent traveled, while 40 percent came for business or professional reasons and 8 percent were visiting family and friends. However, their average stay in Greece decreased by three days to just 12 last year.