Visitor numbers to Russia jumped by 20.5% last year – major e-visa liberalization planned for 2021
It may be the world’s largest country and bursting with visitor attractions, but Russia has long punched below its weight in the tourism sector. Now, signs suggest this is beginning to change.
In 2019, 5.1 million people came to the country as tourists – a 20.5 percent increase on the previous year, during which the FIFA World Cup was staged in 11 Russian cities. That’s according to brand-new figures released by the Association of Tour Operators of Russia.
At the top of the leaderboard for visitors is China. In 2019, 1.5 million Chinese crossed the border for the purposes of tourism, a rise of almost 19 percent. The vast majority of Chinese citizens visited through the visa-free scheme, which makes it easier for tourist groups to travel.
Of course, these figures may drop in 2020, following the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
Overall, the top five countries sending tourists to Russia have not changed: Germany, South Korea, the USA and Israel making up the rest of the quintet, with the most significant growth coming from France, at 32.4 percent.Tourism from all areas of the globe increased in 2019, with the exception of Latin America. This is probably due to inflated 2018 numbers as the World Cup attracted so many football fans from this region.
Russia’s tourism sector is underdeveloped, even in comparison with much smaller European peers. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the country receives fewer annual visitors than Austria or Greece and about a quarter of the number France attracts.
The problem isn’t a shortage of attractions. Moscow is Europe’s largest city and Russia boasts 29 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Lake Baikal, the Volcanoes of Kamchatka and the historic centers of Saint Petersburg and Yaroslavl. Additionally, there are world-class skiing facilities at Sochi, the beaches of the Black Sea and, for the more adventurous, vast national parks, such as the 83,384-hectare ‘Roar of the Tiger’ facility in the Far East.
The rise in tourism numbers is good news for the Kremlin, especially as officials move to simplify the visa process for the citizens of 53 countries. With the introduction of short-term e-visas to Saint Petersburg, ahead of the roll out of 16-day national e-Visas in 2021, the number of visitors to Russia is likely to rise in the coming years.
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