Smog boosts Russian travel bug

Drought and fires raging across Russia this summer triggered travel fever enriching travel agencies.

Tour agencies are reaping the benefits of summer 2010 as Russians fed up with extreme environmental conditions flee the country. Spain, Israel and Egypt have all seen record numbers of Russian tourists this summer.

This season travel agencies and tour operators have not only bounced back from the recession but also made significant gains – of up to 20%. Local tourism is also enjoying an unprecedented demand, according to Maya Lomidze from the Association of Russian Tour Operators.

“When the fires began raging across the country we had an explosion of phone calls from people asking to send them away from the smog to somewhere where it was cooler. Local weekend tours to northern destinations were the most popular.”

There were fears of possible price hikes because of surging demand. But industry players say scope for this has been limited because many of the tours have been booked in advance, and that those fleeing the smog in Moscow have largely been filling in places on previously well booked tours. Irina Cherkunova, Deputy Director of the Delphin Tour Agency says last minute deals have also helped keep prices down.

“Fortunately there were no speculations on weather conditions neither in Moscow nor in the regions. Tour operators kept their discount offers as well as last minute deals.”

In the past few days, the smog has somewhat retreated but demand for tours to popular Egypt and Turkey is still extremely high. The question is whether the resorts will be able to handle Russia’s travel fever.