Tourism Growth Halted
By Galina Stolyarova
For the first time in 7 years St. Petersburg
city government has reported
discouraging news on the tourism front: the
number of visitors has stopped
"Our results will at best repeat last year's
figures," said Viktor Pakhomkov,
deputy head of the External Affairs and Tourism
Committee of the city
government. In 2003, 3.12 million foreign
tourists visited St. Petersburg, which was
then a 15 percent hike from 2002.
In the meantime, some local hotels have improved
their sales in 2004. Yana
Lakizina, PR-manager of Grand Hotel Europe, said
they had more guests this year
than in 2003, and the tendency was for guests to
According to Sergei Korneyev, head of the
Northwest branch of the Russian
Union of Travel Industry participants (RST), two
plane crashes, a series of
blasts and the hostage tragedy in Beslan led to
the cancellations for 20,000
foreign tourist groups planning a trip to Russia.
Concurrently, St. Petersburg
suffered a 20-percent decline in tourism from
"St. Petersburg and its region are considered the
safest regions in all of
Russia," Korneyev said. "But a terrorist attack
typically affects the entire
country, and not only the area where it happens."
"This year was not an easy one for all of us,"
said Luba Aprelikova, director
of sales and marketing at Renaissance St.
Petersburg Baltic Hotel. "The city
was still living on the wave of the 300 year
anniversary and getting large
visitor numbers when the tragic events of Beslan
shocked the world."
As a result, Aprelikova noted a decline in
business, or corporate, tourism:
"Russia was taken off the list of 'incentive
destinations' by some of the large
international travel agencies."
Pakhomkov said that many trips to St. Petersburg
were canceled at the last
minute. "Several thousands tourists cancelled
their reservations, and of course
nobody can calculate the number of people who
simply changed their mind about
wanting to travel to St. Petersburg," he
This year, St. Petersburg missed almost all
important travel exhibitions
abroad owing to limited funds. In 2004, the city
budget for tourism development
was cut by more than 80 percent: just 6 million
rubles ($200,000) was allotted
to promote the city. As a result, the city
attended only 4 international
tourism exhibitions, a far cry from the 18-22
events the St. Petersburg delegation
was able to attend in previous years.
By comparison, Moscow's tourism budget this year
stood at an enviable 310
million rubles, and the sum will be boosted to a
handsome 900 million rubles next
year, Pakhomkov said.
In the meantime, the northern capital will have
to make do with same 6
million rubles again next year.
"This is obviously wrong and a shame for the
city," Pakhomkov said. "The
industry brings from 10 percent to 12 percent of
the city's total income -
something like 100 billion rubles ($370
Balancing the books
Leonid Flit, general director of Nika Travel
Agency, said a major transport
company, able to respond to increasing needs of
the local travel industry,
should be created. "In the Soviet years,
Intourist was doing fine, but now they
can't cope with all the requests. They simply
don't have enough buses."
Still another view stressed by many experts was
the need to move official
events from the White Nights summer season in
order to allow more ordinary
tourists to visit the city, and make the industry
busier during the low season.
Gennady Belonogov, general director of
Pulkovskaya Hotel, pointed to a
comparison between St. Petersburg's modest 15,000
beds at local hotels and London's
more than 300,000.
"The shortage is damaging the industry," he said.
"The small hotels aren't
helping it much. Nobody is building large hotels
here because it takes about 7
years to repay the money invested, and people
don't want to take risks. The
city has to think how to make it more attractive
Belonogov added that potential investors
expressed concern about a drastic
gap in occupancy between the summer and the
winter months. Low winter tourist
numbers was an investor worry.
Security is still a major concern for tourists,
and not just foreigners, but
also Russian nationals traveling.
Foreign visitors bombarded their hosts with
complaints in the summer
concerning poor security on the city's streets.
Once out of the hotel, the chances of
theft were high, tourists complained.
"Over the past several years, we have installed
over 200 cameras in our
hotel, and it has been a very efficient system,"
Pulkovskaya's Belonogov said. "But
we are not responsible for the insufficient
Rachel Shackleton, general director of Concept
Training, Development and
Consultancy Services, believes security has to be
focused on, with concrete
actions needed to be taken by the city tourist
committee to bring visible results.
"The situation needs to be addressed in a very
serious way to defeat those
few who are damaging the image of this city as a
destination," Shackleton said.
Furthermore, experts point out that there have
been no improvements to the
city's infrastructure. There is still a big
challenge in the process of
receiving visas for Russia; it remains
problematic to arrange tours to museums, which
are overcrowded despite increased prices; traffic
jams seem to be only getting
"On the transportation front, I don't see any
changes at all. There's been no
real effort to structure parking or traffic
systems to manage the increased
flow of traffic," Shackleton said.
Thomas Noll, general manager of Corinthia Nevskij
Palace Hotel, said many
guests made complaints about the city's ailing
infrastructure. "What we hear more
often is how things are organized at Pulkovo
airport, when you have to cue up
outside the terminal in the cold winter
temperatures in order to go through
the security control," Noll said.
Lyudmila Ivanova, director of the Association of
Tourism Exhibitions, said
Great Britain's annual profit from the tourism
industry makes Pound3 billion
($5.79 billion), and this is what St. Petersburg
should be aiming at, if not
immediately, then in the near future.
"A Unesco report this year rated St. Petersburg
at No.8 in a list of the
world's most attractive destinations," Ivanova
said. "We should be promoting the
city much more intensively.
"Prague is visited by 12 million people a year,
but the Czech National
Tourism board is investing lots more into
promoting the Czech capital than Russians
do to promote St. Petersburg."
In Noll's opinion, the town's marketing and
promotion are still in the
nascent stages. "Currently promotion concepts are
being developed by the Boston
Consulting Group and TACIS to raise the city to a
No. 5 most attractive
destination in the world," Noll said.
"But once a good model is created, efficient
cooperation is needed between
the government and private enterprises to
establish a effective marketing
service for the city."