Brand Russia aims to win more tourists

Although this year’s Moscow international tourism fair attracted three times as many participants as it did in 2006, most analysts believe the country is only just beginning to realise its potential as a tourist destination.

The mood is upbeat for the country's tourism industry as a whole. More and more foreigners are interested in visiting Russia.  In response to this, the industry is switching to more contemporary marketing techniques and beginning to address infrastructure issues.

The number of foreign tourists coming to Russia has grown rapidly in recent years with Moscow alone posting a 15% jump in the first half of 2007 to 1.6 million.

Traditionally, Moscow and St Petersburg dominate as destinations, which is a blessing for the two cities but a curse for numerous other cities and regions which have attractions still little known internationally.

“Of course Moscow and St. Petersburg are main tourism centers in Russia. But there is a big potential for Russian regions: cultural tourism, historical tourism, luxury tourism, health tourism all these kinds will be popular in the nearest future” predicts Aleksandr Shtalenkov, director general of Tourism Fair, Moscow.
 
Industry players say Russia's potential as a tourist destination is only just starting to be tapped.  Numerous tours, events and facilities catering for everyone from backpackers to the VIP market are springing up.  But the next step is to divide a huge country into recognizable regions which can be branded to make tourism promotion more effective.

A new program called “Time for leisure in Russia” highlights the change to a more strategic approach.

“Russia's tourist market is now at the stage of branding. Clear recognizable regions are being formed like Siberia, the Volga river, the North-West” says Aleksandr Guly, editor-in-chief of Time for Leisure in Russia, Moscow.
 
Companies organizing tours along the Volga river, the remote Kamchatka Peninsula, famous for its geysers, volcanoes and wildlife, lake Baikal and the Altay, are all trying to find the key to attracting more foreign visitors, with some interesting ideas cropping up.

“On the whole foreign tourists are interested in Russian exotics like the Trans-Siberian railway, the Siberian taiga and Chukotka. To promote the Far East there has even appeared an idea of cloning mammoth's cells to set up a safari park” adds Aleksandr Guly.

The tourism industry still faces many difficulties, including poor infrastructure and transport facilities. This limits access to some locations.  

Another problem is the quantity and quality of hotels.  Moscow has many hotels but they are focused at the business and luxury visitor. The industry is looking for more medium range hotels across Russia. And with the number of foreign tourists expected only to continue growing, these issues need urgent attention.