‘Our Main Goal Is to Shed Light on Hidden Russian Destinations’

PHOTO by Mikhail Pochuev / TASS
Alla Manilova, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Culture, speaks about growing interest in Russia against a backdrop of sanctions and new tour routes beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg

Has the flow of tourists to Russia changed this year? Which countries are they primarily from?

According to official data, in the first six months of the year we saw growth among all countries that generate the highest flow of tourists to Russia. However, the second half of the year promises to be even better.

We will know for sure in the first quarter of 2017 but I can already assure you that the increase in flow will be significant. Not only from China and the East in general, but also from Europe. Is it caused by a weaker rouble? I doubt it, and many pundits will agree. The rouble is not the only decisive factor. What does a traveller get when they acquire a package tour? Is it simply a discount, hotel or plane tickets? No. It’s the emotions they’re willing to pay for. The questions of hotel and airline are secondary.

The growth in numbers of tourists from abroad is as vital as domestic tourism because we want foreigners to experience the authentic Russia. Every dreadful myth spread by the Western media is debunked when they come here. Are Russians a threat to the world? No, not at all, they are friendly and hospitable. Does Russia prefer isolation? No, it welcomes visitors from around the globe. Have sanctions kneecapped Russia? Quite the opposite, the supermarket shelves are overflowing. Do people feel down? Well, theatres are as popular as ever while museums have huge lines of people waiting to get in. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Foreign travellers certainly benefit our economy more, so they are our priority. It’s one way to export positive impressions about the country.

The time is ripe when the rouble favours tourists and interest is sprouting up, so we have to jump on the tourism bandwagon. Increasing the number of visitors gradually does not work; we have to take a collective action in the international arena.

Manilova russia tourism travel 1

Has Russia become more appealing to tourists after the introduction of economic sanctions?

Yes, there’s been a lot of enthusiasm. Austrians, the French, Germans, Italians and Spaniards are suddenly drawn to Russia after two years of inactivity. We have enjoyed centuries of cultural exchange with these countries. In fact, Europeans are yearning to experience a multifaceted Russia. They want to explore Siberia, the Urals, the Caucasus and the provinces. It is unprecedented.

Bilateral years of tourism are Russia’s most powerful weapon to promote the industry. The first such agreement was signed with Italy in 2014. Let me remind you that that was the year when the political arena started to change. Yet we enjoyed a productive result. Its success is reflected in regional partnership agreements between Russia and Italy, between associations in smaller cities, cultural exchanges and new opportunities. We maintain valuable communication with Italy’s ministries of cultural legacy and tourism, and we have agreed on a number of specific events, dates and expected outcomes.

The Russia-Austria Year of Tourism will begin in January. Austrians are extremely respected and motivated. Austria invested 1.6 billion euros in ski infrastructure in Sochi during the 2014 Olympic games. We hope for more investments in the North Caucasus. Günther Platter, the current Governor of Tyrol, has expressed a great interest in establishing ties with Karachay-Cherkessia and strengthening partnerships between Innsbruck, a two-time Olympic host, and Sochi. Both sides hope to boost economic and social links in different spheres.

A view of the Olympic Park in Sochi

As for the cross-year with Spain, let’s not forget that Madrid is the headquarters of the World Tourism Organisation. It is a generator of ideas as well as an analytical and monitoring centre for world tourism. Besides, Spain and France hold the crown in world tourism.

The Spanish have overcome a long-lasting economic crisis and are now ready to travel the world. In 2015 Spain topped the list of major contributors of tourists to Russia. The growth rate in 2016 will reach 20 to 25%.

The current Year of Culture and Tourism between France and Russia will be extended until the end of 2017. We are working closely on creating new tourist routes under the common banner of “The Russian Trace in France” and “The French Trace in Russia.” Both Russian and French partners realise the need to entice people with fresh ideas, to move beyond the existing framework and come up with something intriguing and innovative.

So going beyond St. Petersburg’s palaces?

Yes, offering routes that bind together historical and cultural points of interest for both countries. For example, old military routes, the Russian emigration to France, music, theatre, painting, architecture, gastronomic tours. As you can see, these points would span a number of Russian and French regions.

St. Trinity Church at the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiev Posad, the only city in Moscow Region included in the Golden Ring of Russia

But as I said, our main goal is to shed light on the hidden Russian destinations that are essential for understanding our country, with its vastness, multi-ethnic layers, and unique cultural and natural diversity.

What projects, asides from the “Golden Ring,” are the priority?

They include the routes “Silver Necklace of Russia,” “Russian Mansions” and others. “Russia: the Birthplace of Space” is our latest proposal that was presented in Milan during the opening of the “Visit Russia” office. We’re also initiating the “Great Silk Road” and “The Grand Volga.”

Why did you set up a separate tourism programme at the Cultural Forum in St. Petersburg?

The programme is part of the Ninth Coordinating Council on Tourism. Russia is so vast that we need additional tools to facilitate the work of Russia’s Ministry of Culture.

The key theme this year is boosting the competitiveness of the Russian regions within the country and abroad. Regions that will promote tourism and sign a series of agreements on developing local routes will be rewarded.

Churches seen at sunrise in a village on Istra river, Moscow Region

Choosing a “New Year holiday destination” capital is another way to increase the popularity of Russian cities. Tambov has been nominated this year. Has it been effective?

Tambov expects to welcome an unusual number of tourists this year. No doubt it will encourage the regional authorities, the tourism industry, the hospitality business, museums and local residents to further develop and promote the region.

Could you confirm that the Ministry of Culture and the Federal Tourism Agency are working on a draft law, similar to the one in France, that will set requirements for ski resorts?

It's not quite true. We are preparing a number of legal acts. In the past four years we have introduced three laws, 26 regulations and 18 national standards.

Already in place are bills on hotel classification, guide certification, interpreters and instructors. This includes some 25 regulations and 11 national drafts. Ski resorts are the most dynamic tourism niche. More than four million people visit them every year.

Holiday-makers at the Roza Khutor alpine skiing resort in Sochi's Adler district

In cooperation with the tourism industry, we have developed and approved a national standard for operating ski resorts. The standard sets the basic terms, concepts and service requirements, including safety and quality provisions.

How do you plan to develop tourism leading up to the World Cup in 2018?

There have been plans to create new routes for fans in all 11 cities hosting games. We are taking advantage of the bilateral years of tourism, creating a presentation platform for regional cities, building new infrastructure, hotels and improving customer service.

The Federal Tourism Agency is responsible for promoting the image of Russia. It has conducted “road shows” in various countries around the world, sharing tourism ideas across the host cities.