Ukraine invasion weighs on Russia: Moscow sees 90% decline in organised tourism 

People walk in Teatralnaya (Theater) Square decorated for the New Year and Christmas festivities in Moscow, Russia. AP

Moscow: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has largely impacted its tourism industry. Vladimir Putin-governed nation has witnessed a remarkable 90 per cent decline in tourism, especially among organised tours, since 24 February when Moscow launched its “special military operation” in neighbouring Kyiv.

Why Russia is being isolated?

Sergei Romashkin, the head of a Russian tour operator Delfin told Moscow Times attributed the dip in tourism mostly to the fact that the country has gained a negative image since it launched a “special military operation” against Ukraine.

Official figures released by Russia, however, suggest that tourism has dropped by 40 per cent since 2021 with 190,000 travellers visiting the country in 2022 as opposed to 290,000 in 2021.

In 2019, around 5.1 million tourists visited Russia with 400,000 coming in via organised tours.

According to a Russian business daily Kommersant, many tour operators in the country have now shifted their operations from inbound tourism to organising tours in Moscow and St Petersburg.

“A noticeable flow from Europe should not be expected in 2023,” said Romashkin who even forecasts a “small growth” from countries that have visa-free agreements with Russia like Iran, Turkey and India.

Tourism revival in 2023?

On the other hand, some industry experts are optimistic and are anticipating to witness a revival in tourism next year. They are particularly pinning their hopes on China as it comes out of Covid-induced isolation and plans to reopen its borders in January.

Visa and Mastercard ban

In March this year, soon after Ukraine was invaded, Visa and Mastercard suspended their operations in Russia.

Visa said in a statement that the suspension would cut off all domestic transactions and cards issued in Russia would not work abroad.

The chairman and chief executive officer of Visa, Alfred Kelly said, “We are compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed. We regret the impact this will have on our valued colleagues, and on the clients, partners, merchants and cardholders we serve in Russia.”

Mastercard issued a ban on similar lines, saying that any card issued by a Russian bank will no longer be supported by its network.

“For more than a week, the world has watched the shocking and devastating events resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our colleagues, our customers and our partners have been affected in ways that most of us could not imagine,” it said in a statement.

Rebekah Koffler, a former US Defence Intelligence Agency officer told Fox News Digital, “It’s hard to travel if you can’t use your Visa or your Mastercard. And for Americans, if you can’t get your Starbucks and your Big Mac, who would want to go to such a place?”

US asks Americans not to travel to Russia

More recently, the US State Department issued travel guidance for Americans advising them not to visit Russia.

Describing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “unprovoked and unjustified”, the State Department said, “Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against US citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of US citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention.

“The arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia, COVID-19-related restrictions, and terrorism,” it added.

Dip in tourism from neighbouring countries too

As post-pandemic restrictions eased in most European countries in 2021, a tourism rebound was witnessed across Europe. But tourism in Ukraine and Russia fell 30 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

Countries like Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania reported lower tourism levels in 2022 as compared to 2019.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Secretary-General, Mathias Cormann said, “Fallout from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is now threatening the sector’s recovery. The challenge for governments and businesses is not only to boost tourism in the short-term but to also ensure the sector’s longer-term strength and sustainability.”

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