Tour operators set sail // Moscow and St. Petersburg market fears cancellation of mass events

New restrictive measures by the authorities to counter the outbreak of COVID-19 in Moscow and St. Petersburg are causing concern among representatives of the travel industry. Market participants are anxiously thinking about the possible cancellation of upcoming mass events, such as the “Scarlet Sails” holiday in St. Petersburg, and count on the revival of the market due to the “school cashback” program.

New restrictive measures may lead to a decrease in the tourist flow to Moscow and St. Petersburg, said participants in the travel market interviewed by Kommersant. The executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) Maya Lomidze is confident that the activity of tourists’ trips to Moscow and St. Petersburg will now decrease, but it is difficult to assess the scale. The founder of Ivashkevich Hospitality Stanislav Ivashkevich expects a decrease in the occupancy rate of Moscow hotels this week by 15-30% amid a decrease in the number of business trips. The first signals have already begun to arrive. For example, the general director of the Dolphin tour operator Sergei Romashkin says that on June 15, seven of his clients canceled their planned tours to Moscow, he said there were no new bookings, while usually several dozen applications are received every day. Marina Levchenko, General Director of Tari Tour, also talks about the first cases of cancellation, specifying that we are talking about tours for the coming weekend.

The Moscow authorities announced new restrictions related to the increase in the incidence of COVID-19 on June 12: this week, food courts and playrooms are prohibited in shopping centers in the city, restaurants do not receive guests at night, the zoo is closed, and it is prohibited to use urban infrastructure in parks. In St. Petersburg, since June 17, food courts will also not work, the opening hours of catering establishments will be reduced, and entertainment and entertainment events will be canceled.

Ms Levchenko explains that the directly imposed restrictions do not yet affect tourists: they can still visit museums and restaurants. Business concerns, according to the expert, are caused by the prospects of mass events in St. Petersburg, which traditionally attract a large number of guests, in particular the “Scarlet Sails” holiday (June 25-27). She does not exclude that if it is canceled, the business will face a massive cancellation of tours. “Considering that reservations for June were made under the tourist cashback program, their postponement will create additional difficulties,” she says. The representative of the Alean tour operator Larisa Akhanova adds that the drop in demand may affect short tours for the weekend, while long trips are unlikely to be canceled by tourists.

Sightseeing tourist trips have not yet managed to recover from last year’s recession. According to preliminary estimates of ATOR, the flow of Russian tourists to Moscow and St. Petersburg in June is one and a half times lower than in 2019. The drop in the flow is noticeable in other excursion destinations. Maya Lomidze associates this with a complex of factors: the fear of contracting COVID-19, constantly changing conditions for visiting museums and other objects, and additional restrictions. She cites the Ivanovo region as an example: according to the decision of local authorities, tourists are asked to show a vaccination certificate, a certificate of the presence of antibodies, or a PCR test done no more than three days ago at the entrance of tourists. “The cities of the region were included in most of the cruise routes,” explains Ms. Lomidze.

Sergei Romashkin adds that the absence of organized groups of schoolchildren, who are not taken out of their home region amid the pandemic, negatively affects the Moscow market. The expert assumes that the activity of tourists can be supported by the tourist cashback program for recreation of young people and schoolchildren, which should start in July. So far, it is planned to place a stake in it on educational trips – as follows from the letter sent by Rostourism to tour operators, the formed products should include at least one excursion per day. A similar measure to stimulate demand has already led to a sharp increase in the occupancy rate of Russian resorts: according to Mr. Romashkin’s estimates, in June the flow of tourists to them was 50% higher than in 2019.

Alexandra Mertsalova

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