Because Russians are just now emerging as serious tourists, and because Greece could attract them with the right strategy, the Institute of Tourism Research and Forecasts urges the government here to open information centers and meeting points for tourists in several major Russian cities.
In addition to Moscow and St Petersburg, the institute asks for Hellenic Tourism Organization offices to be set up in Ekaterinburg, Nizhni-Novgorod and Rostov.
As the recent study by the institute shows, visiting Russians spend plenty of money when they travel. On average, one Russian spends as much as three British or four German tourists.
And considering the number of tourists -about 5 million Russians travel abroad for pleasure, and when you add in business and family visits and the figure rises to 11.7 million- proper efforts could prove most advantageous for Greece. In 2002 about 135,000 Russian tourists visited Greece -just 2.7 percent of all tourists- and in 2003 the figure rose by 15.5 percent.
In the Mediterranean market, about 7 percent of Russian tourists visit Greece, compared with 33.7 percent who visit Turkey.
Another positive aspect for Greece is that Russians are inclined toward religious, cultural and winter-related tourism and often want children’s activities included in their itineraries. Even student-age and retired Russians are becoming frequent tourists.
However, since few Russians speak good English, the institute suggests that the culture ministry have some signs at museums, and other historical, cultural and religious sites, written in Russian.
It adds that educational trips could be arranged by the Hellenic Tourism Organization and subsidies could be offered to tour operators. Together, this would lay the groundwork for the future of Russian tourism in Greece.
On the down side, the institute reminded that a number of factors are discouraging a rise in Russian tourism in Greece. These include the difficulty for Russians to get around their country, the need for visas from the Greek consulate offices in Russia, and the continuing decline of the Russian population since 2000.
The institute urges the foreign affairs ministry to curb limitations imposed by the Schengen Treaty regarding entry to most old EU members. There have been some serious efforts to alleviate this problem, says the institute, but preparing visa applications is still difficult and the process lasts about three days.
The proposed development of religious tourism, it said, could also increase tourism not only from Russia but also from other Orthodox countries.