Russian vacationers flock to non-European destinations | Trip

Everything changed on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. As Russian rockets rained down on Ukraine, international sanctions were not long in coming: the Russian ruble collapsed, Russian bank accounts and credit cards were blocked abroad. International travel suddenly became much more complicated for ordinary Russians.

“Interest in travel practically evaporated at the end of February and March, excluding business trips and family visits,” says Olga Smyschlaeva of Moscow’s Wanderlust Travel Studio. Many reservations were canceled and vacation plans shelved.

Exclusive destinations popular with wealthy Russians

However, in May, wealthy Russians were traveling again, mainly to the Maldives, Mauritius and Turkey. The demand for luxury getaways increased.

“People got used to the new reality [of Russia at war] and I started to adapt,” says Smyschlaeva.

In mid-May, with only a few weeks to go until Russia’s summer vacation, many began booking luxury hotels abroad, mainly in Turkey. Turkish luxury hotels and those along the popular Aegean coast soon sold out, according to Smyschlaeva.

Turkey remains a very popular tourist destination for wealthy Russians, confirms Artur Muradjan of Space Travel. The same goes for the Maldives. And although direct flights from Russia to the European Union have been suspended, the Russians have nonetheless reached the bloc.

ruble rebound

This year, Greece and Italy proved especially popular with Russians, says Muradjan. “These are countries that are tolerant of Russian tourists.” He hopes that many of his compatriots will also travel to the United Arab Emirates and Southeast Asia this fall and winter.

“Fortunately, there are a lot of flights in these regions,” he tells DW, adding that foreign travel has become more affordable for Russians since the ruble recovered, thanks to Russian government interventions.

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‘hostile states’

Russians are less interested in spending their holidays in Europe for two reasons: the elimination of direct flights to and from the European Union and the introduction of sanctions against Russia. “No one wants to travel to hostile states, because no one knows if this could be used against them one day,” says Muradjan.

A recent EU decision to restrict visa access for Russians will further discourage Russian tourists from visiting the bloc.

Russia considers most EU states “hostile countries” for going ahead with sanctions against Russia in response to the Ukraine war. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov said the step was designed to reduce contact with those countries. Designated “hostile countries” face limits on hiring local staff to work at their Russian embassies.

Despite these challenges, wealthy Russians have not given up on Europe entirely. Olga Smyschlaeva says her compatriots still enjoy visiting Italy, France and Spain, although getting there now requires a detour through countries like Turkey, Serbia or Finland.

Helsinki airport, for example, is packed with wealthy Russian tourists. The reason is simple: it is easy to get to Finland by land from Russia, and direct flights are available from there to the various capitals of Europe.

“We have not noticed any Russophobia or prejudice [in Europe]says Smyschlaeva. Many Russians longed to visit Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic, she adds, saying they are now making up for lost time, despite the high cost of plane tickets and transfers.

Anastasia Umovskaja of Klutchi, a tourism group, says interest in African and Latin American countries is also growing. She thinks that economic reasons explain this change. “Today, making a detour to fly to Europe is as expensive as flying to South Africa.”

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Paying abroad is complicated

What about the ultra-rich in Russia? Have your travel preferences changed since the war in Ukraine began? Has it become more difficult for them to charter yachts and private jets in the West? “Fortunately, we have not observed such restrictions,” says Smyschlaeva.

However, the real question is more about how to afford those luxuries. Visa and Mastercard suspended operations in Russia shortly after the war broke out, making payments abroad nearly impossible. Banking transactions have also become much more complicated, though not impossible, says Smyschlaeva.

This article was translated from German.

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