Travel turmoil as industry braces for downturn

Global economic turmoil is already affecting the travel market. For most Russian tour operators the just-completed summer season was the worst in decades, and while they await the winter nervously, insiders say the domestic industry has its own homegrown

The liquidity crisis couldn't but affect tourism. The first alerts came from Britian. Tour operator XL Leisure Group collapsed in September with about $US 200 million in debts. And it seems the Russian tourism industry reacted to the world financial crisis even earlier than the banking, property and retail sectors – the summer season proved the least profitable in years, according to Evgeny Sudbin, Deputy General Director of Ascent Travel

“The just-completed season was the worst since our company was founded 15 years ago. The number of people ready to spend their money on a vacation decreased significantly, while tour operators had prepared for the same rate of growth in tourist numbers as in previous years. As a consequence the tours were sold below their real cost.”

But this is not the whole story. Sergey Shpilko, President of the Russian Union Travel Industry, says Russia's tourism market has its own domestic problems.
“The world financial crisis coincided with a domestic crisis in the tourism industry, which stemmed from the sharp rise of air ticket prices. This caused bankruptcies in both tour and aviation industries.”

The prices of winter tours have soared by as much as 35% for some destinations. Industry insiders say next summer is likely to bring a wave of consolidation, or more likely bankruptcies.