Russians wanting to visit Spain, France, Italy and Portugal are using Hungary and Greece as the stopover gateway to avoid vaccine restrictions.
An analysis of data for flight bookings facilitated by Aviasales — Eastern Europe and Central Asia’s leading travel metasearch, responsible for generating almost 20% of all Russian air ticket sales — shows that Russian outbound international tourism for the New Year holiday period (last days of December until mid-January, when Russia closes down for a national holiday) has not been impacted by the Omicron variant.
Compared with the same travel period for 2020, bookings from Russia to Turkey are up by 130% and even are up by 78% when compared to 2019. Meanwhile Russia to UAE bookings are up by 207% Vs 2020 and by 19% compared to 2019. Looked at a on a week-by-week basis, bookings are still increasing in the weeks up to New Year (as normally happens each year) and there is no sign of an increase in cancellations. The only sign of a fall in bookings / cancellations understandably comes from the Russian-South Africa route. At the same time, the analysis shows that Russian’s have been using Hungary and Greece as a gateway to access the leading Mediterranean destinations of Spain, France, Portugal and Italy — all of which do not recognise the Russian Sputnik vaccine and therefore don’t allow the vast majority of Russians to fly directly into their country.
Since flights from Russia to Greece and Hungary opened up this summer to vaccinated Russians the number of bookings to Hungary has increased over 180% and Greece 65%. Meanwhile Hungary to Spain bookings are up by 1,800%, France by 1,000% and Portugal by 800%. And Greece to Spain bookings are up by 540%, France by 620% and Italy 730%.
A spokesperson for Aviasales comments: “The run-up to the New Year period — when the whole of Russia closes down from the last few days of December until around the 10th of January — traditionally sees bookings continuing strongly up until the last minute: the winter in cities like Moscow and St Petersburg is very cold and people use these dates to sun themselves on the beach in places like Turkey and Dubai mainly.
“Whilst overall international sales remain below 2019 levels, the emergence of Omicron doesn’t seem to have impacted bookings recently at all.
"This broadly matches what we have seen throughout COVID: in particular the Russian domestic travel market has not been as heavily impacted as in other large tourism source markets around the world.
“For example, during the most recent lock-down in Russia in October time we saw a spike in bookings from Russians wanting to use the lock-down as a chance to take holidays in places like Turkey and Dubai.
“Contrary to what many think, Russia has a quite significant middle class with disposable income and a high desire to travel internationally — in fact we are the 8th biggest outbound tourism market in the world, spending over $31bn a year, according to the UNWTO.
"Evidently this is something that has only emerged over the last 15 years or so, but this data and our own anecdotal feedback from partners shows Russians are very reluctant to forfeit this hard won pleasure and not even COVID is going to get in their way. Nor too are vaccine restrictions, as shown by the data on the incredibly high numbers now prepared to connect in Hungary and Greece simply to access France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.
“This should be a wake-up call for those destinations on just how loyal and determined Russian travellers are and why they should be creating further products for the Russian market."
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