It is 2020 and time for the world to sum up the outcomes of different economic sectors, including tourism. At first glance, the tourist industry does not appears to be an important part of the business sphere, unlike the sale of oil and weapons is. However, nowadays, there are hundreds of millions of tourists who not only pay transport companies for transfers but also spend considerable amounts of money in destinations they visit. As a result, the total sums involved are enormous.
According to 2018 statistics, the global tourism market was worth $8.8 trillion, and the industry helped create 319 million jobs worldwide. The most popular destinations starting at the top were France, Spain, the United States, China, Italy, Mexico, Great Britain, Turkey, Germany and Thailand. The results for 2019 are not available yet despite the fact that the year ended some weeks ago, as the data collected during the peak tourist season globally (i.e. Christmas and New Year holidays) still needs to be analyzed.
It is worth noting that the nations in the top 3 spots each have an equal share of sea resorts with warm climates and cultural sites. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany are not famous for their beaches, but they are both globally renowned for their cultural attractions. And most importantly, all of the nations in the top 10 devote time and energy to developing their tourism industries, and generously invest their money and efforts into their transport infrastructure, simpler entry requirements for foreigners and promotion of their natural and cultural wonders.
Russia is not yet among the most popular destinations for tourists, and up until recently the leadership of the Russian Federation had focused on strategic spheres such as the energy, industry, defense and aerospace sectors, etc. Developing the local tourism sector and attracting foreign visitors was not among the government’s priorities despite the fact that Russia has regions with warm climate in the south, such as the coasts of the Black and Caspian seas and the Sea of Azov, as well as a vast number of natural and man-made attractions. However, during the last decade the situation has begun to change. Efforts have been made to develop the country’s transport infrastructure, to build hotels and to design tourist routes. If earlier Moscow, St. Petersburg (the cultural capital of the Russian Federation) and southern regions received most of the visitors, nowadays, more and more foreigners travel to lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world; Murmansk, where one can enjoy the Northern Light display, and other regions. The biggest events that really put the Russian Federation on the map as a tourist destination were the Olympic Games in 2014, held in the Russian city of Sochi (situated on the Black Sea coast), and the FIFA World Cup tournament in 2018, hosted by a number of cities in Russia.
Aside from the fact that tourism brings earnings to a host-nation, the number of visitors from abroad may serve as an indicator of how friendly its relations are with other countries and of its overall global status. In turn, the number of nation’s citizens travelling abroad on holiday reflects the standard of living enjoyed by its population. And the number of tourists vacationing in foreign countries over several years may be indicative of the rate of the nation’s social and economic development year-on-year.
In recent years, China has rapidly become one of the leaders in outbound tourism. In 2018, citizens of the PRC made almost 150 million trips abroad, only a little over 8 million less in comparison to Americans. The most popular destinations among Chinese tourists are China’s neighboring countries in East and Southeast Asia, such as South Korea, Myanmar, Japan and others. However, it is hard to say whether more people are travelling for business or pleasure. The European Union, the United States and Russia also attract many tourists from the PRC.
They often come to the Russian Federation to take in the cultural sites, and St. Petersburg is a very popular destination. In the first quarter of 2019, visitors from the PRC took first place based on the amount of money ($264 million) they spent in the Russian Federation.
An increasing number of Russians began traveling abroad. According to available data, from January to September 2019, Russians made 35.2 million trips abroad, which is 7% higher than the number of visits during an analogous period in 2018. The most popular country was Turkey. If we were to exclude from the statistics the former neighboring Soviet republics and the countries bordering the Russian Federation, which Russians tend to visit for work and not for pleasure, the preferred destinations were the nations of the European Union and Thailand.
Thailand in the main tourist draw in Southeast Asia. According to the data provided by the Russian Federation’s embassy in Thailand, more than 1 million Russian tourists visited this country from January to October 2019. This is a significant figure but it is somewhat smaller than that during an identical period in 2018.
It is also noteworthy that the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey increased considerably. This change in Russian tourist flows may be accounted for, among other things, by a markedly closer relationship between the Russian Federation and Turkey in 2019.
It is worth reminding our readers that after Turkey had shot down Russia’s plane in Syria in November 2015, the relations between the two countries worsened. As a result, the sale of tourist packages to Turkey was banned in the Russian Federation. But this difficult period is now over. Turkish leader RecepTayyipErdoğan apologized for the death of the Russian pilot and expressed his willingness to re-establish and develop cooperation with the Russian Federation in all possible spheres. After that, he met with President of Russia Vladimir Putin on many occasions and actively collaborated with the Russian Federation on many issues, such as the resolution of the conflict in Syria and the construction of the TurkStream gas pipeline.
As we know, the TurkStream initiative was met with opposition by the United States, which threatened to impose sanctions against those involved. However, this did not deter Turkey. Moreover, Turkey purchased S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems from the Russian Federation, thus risking having sanctions imposed against it by the U.S. Perhaps the increase in the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey stems from these friendly overtures. One way or the other, more than 5.8 million visitors from Russia came to Turkey in 2018, a 28% rise in comparison to 2017.
The Thai government noticed the not very significant decrease in the number of Russian tourists and began to contemplate how to attract them back. The best approach is to make their stay in Thailand more comfortable. For example, negotiations are already underway about the possibility of using Russia’s MIR Card payment system in Thailand.
Another reason for the decrease in Russian visitors in Thailand was the uptick in tourists travelling within Russia, especially to the Crimea.
In conclusion, tourism is truly indicative of the nation’s state of international relationships and economic development, and is also a means of economic cooperation and rewarding friendly countries. At present, the constantly increasing tourist flows reflect the growth of the global economy and a gradual rise in standards of living worldwide. And tourism between countries that are in a political confrontation with each other, as for instance, China and the United States are, leaves us with the hope that, with time, all of these disputes will be resolved by civilized means and we can look ahead, towards year 2020 with optimism.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.