Romania may stand to benefit most from the mass exodus of Russian tourists out of Egypt and Turkey. On Monday, the country’s National Authority for Tourism announced a target of 100,000 Russian visitors for 2016-17, up from the present 30,000 per year.
Two major upheavals in the Russian tourism industry happened in short order last year. Following the terrorist downing of a plane full of Russian tourists over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula in October, trade and tourism with Turkey were all but broken in November after Turkish jets shot down a Russian jet in disputed airspace on the Syrian border.
Now Russian tourist rubles are up for grabs, but it is a buyers’ market — those wealthy enough to travel outside of Russia can afford to choose between many destinations. Compared to Egypt and Turkey, Romania is not as warm and sunny, but it’s politically stable, fairly cheap, and much safer. And Bucharest is aggressively courting Russian tourists, with special campaigns including one called “Seaside for Russians,” which offers lodging at 4-star hotels for €10 ($11) per night. To press the point, representatives of Romania’s tourism ministry and the National Association of Travel Agencies, along with some 20 Romanian tour operators, went to Moscow last week to present their offers to Russian tour operators.
But though Romania’s proximity to major Russian cities may make airfare cheaper, there is nevertheless stiff competition from other countries. In fact, no Romanian cities made it on to the list of ten most affordable popular tourist destinations for Russians, compiled by Russian online hotel booking service Oktogo.ru. Armenian capital Yerevan, Poland’s Poznan and Krakow, Spain’s Malaga, Jordanian capital Amman, Georgian capital Tbilisi, Italy’s Palermo, Azerbaijani capital Baku, Moldovan capital Chisinau, and Uzbek capital Tashkent rounded out the list. Vietnam’s Nha Trang and Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu were listed as the two most affordable spa centers abroad for Russians in 2016, and Thailand remains a popular destination as well.
Furthermore, Romania’s neighbor to the south also is trying to nab a piece of the pie. “Bulgaria will be among the top destinations for Russian tourists in 2016 as security is of prime importance and Bulgaria is a stable and safe country,” said Bulgarian Minister of Tourism Nikolina Angelkova on Sunday. To accelerate this process, the Bulgarian government is trying to facilitate visas for Russians. This is trickier to achieve, however, because the E.U. has a common visa policy and prices cannot be unilaterally decreased by any member. But Angelkova said her ministry is working on special visas (free of charge) that would allow tourist groups to attend the 600+ festivals that Bulgaria hosts per year.
Egypt and Turkey used to be two of the top five destinations for Russian tourists, but any bounce-backs now look several years away. And with them out of the way, all the other contenders should see increased arrivals.