Russia’s tourism industry cratered in 2022, especially among organized tours, as foreign travelers are staying away following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sergei Romashkin, the head of Russian tour operator Delfin, estimated that organized tours to Russia have dropped 90% due in part to the negative image of Russia since the invasion of Ukraine, the ban of Visa and Mastercard use in the country, and Russia’s restrictive visa program, Moscow Times reported.
Official figures show tourism has dropped 40% since last year with 190,000 visitors entering Russia in 2022 compared to 290,000 last year.
In 2019, an estimated 5.1 million tourists visited Russia with 400,000 coming through organized tours.
Tour operators have reportedly shifted their focus from inbound tourism to organizing domestic tours in major Russian cities, and Romashkin said a “noticeable flow” of new tourists from Europe “should not be expected in 2023.”
Romashkin said that “small growth” in tourism may come from countries like Iran that have visa-free travel agreements with Russia.
The U.S. State Department’s most recent travel guidance to Russia in October told Americans they should not travel to the country.
“Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of U.S. 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 U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19-related restrictions, and terrorism,” the State Department advisory said.
“U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Russia should depart Russia immediately.”
Rebekah Koffler, a former U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer focused on Russia and the author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News Digital it is “no big surprise” that tourism to Russia is plummeting due to the “uncertainly associated with the Russia-Ukraine war and the possibility of escalation.”
“No one wants to be stranded in Russia in the middle of a war,” Koffler said. “There is also probably fear of being detained by Russian authorities who have a propensity to use prisoner swap tactics, especially if you are an American or a European.”
“Besides, 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?”
The dip in tourism numbers extends outside of Russia into the countries bordering Russia and Ukraine. As European countries have seen tourism rebound since the coronavirus travel restrictions were eased, countries neighboring Ukraine and Russia have lagged 30% below pre-pandemic levels.
“The pandemic exposed underlying weaknesses in the wider tourism economy,” Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development 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.”