India's proximity to World Cup host, sports events in England make Russia top travel destination

India's proximity to World Cup host, sports events in England make Russia top travel destination

Rich Indians are flocking to the FIFA World Cup in Russia, unfazed by a spurt in airfares and hotel rates. Their love for the spectacular event, proximity to this year’s venue and two major sporting events in London around the same time have made Russia a top vacation destination this summer. “We have seen an increase in people travelling to Russia during this period.

Airfares and hotel rates have definitely gone up by at least 20% due to increase in demand for the World Cup, but this hasn’t dampened demand,” said Karan Anand, head of relationships, Cox & Kings, one of India’s oldest travel agents. “We have also seen a 10% increase in last-minute bookings to Russia, and expect this to continue, and even peak closer to the final stages of the tournament.” A six-day, seven-night stay in Russia, including airfare, starts from Rs 3 lakh, said Anand.

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According to Ixigo, an online travel marketplace, Russia has recorded a 23% month-on-month increase in flight searches from India during the tournament. The growth has got a further boost by Russian initiatives such as visa-free entry for people with World Cup tickets, from 10 days before the first game to 10 days after the last game. Ixigo cofounder Aloke Bajpai sees a 25% rise in bookings in coming days. Russia was selected in 2010 to host this year’s World Cup. The month-long tournament, which began on June 14, will be held in various Russian cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi.

The country has reportedly spent $14 billion on the event, making it the most expensive sporting extravaganza in its history, and is preparing to welcome millions of visitors. A total of 3.43 million people had watched the 2014 World Cup in stadiums in Brazil, while over five million from across the world saw the matches from the so-called fan parks where no entry tickets were required. There are 11such parks in Russia.

But the event this year is attracting more Indians than in the previous editions in Brazil and South Africa, said travel company executives.

Rakshit Desai, managing director of corporate travel company FCM Travel Solutions, pegged it at 60% higher than the previous tournaments. FCM is the Indian subsidiary of Flight Centre Travel Group, Australia. “Compared to the last FIFA World Cup in Brazil, we are seeing a 20% growth this year due to Russia’s proximity to India.

The last World Cup (Brazil) saw a growth of around 15%,” said Anand. Sport enthusiasts are planning to club their trip with two other mega sporting events—the Wimbledon championships, the oldest tennis tournament in the world that starts from July 2 and goes on till July 15, as well as the Indian cricket team’s tour of England, which kicks off on July 3. “Between India’s tour of England, Wimbledon and the World Cup, there are lots of opportunities to mix and match for a customised sports itinerary,” Desai explained.

He also said corporates are using the tournament as a form of client engagement and dealer reward programme exercise. Anand of Cox & Kings concurred. “It is primarily driven by the corporate market, which accounts for over 70% of bookings. Many large companies take top performers to watch the game and use it as an added incentive,” he said.

Ixigo data show that 48% of Indians travelling during the tournament are planning to go solo, followed by 16% with families and 12% as couples. With June being one of the best times to visit Russia, travellers are opting to stay for a duration of up to 10 days to be a part of the football extravaganza while discovering nearby places in the host cities. Data also shows that around 73% travellers had planned to travel to Moscow for the opening ceremony at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium which will also host the final, followed by 16% and 4% to St. Petersburg and Rostow, respectively.

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