Staunton, September 7 – As a result of the economic crisis, Russians are not traveling abroad in anything like the numbers they did only two years ago, thus losing the chance to exercise one of the rights that they routinely identify as among the most important opportunities the end of the Soviet system gave them.
But at the same time, and perhaps equally important, a new poll shows that relatively few Russians living beyond Moscow’s ring road are coming the capital, a development that reflects the rising cost of travel within Russia and one that almost certainly means that the anti-Moscow feelings that affect many in Russia’s regions will only intensify.
An article in today’s “Novyye izvestiya” suggests that the current economic and political crisis has “driven Russians behind a new ‘iron curtain,’” with the number of Russians travelling abroad having dropped by 34 percent in the first half of this year (newizv.ru/economics/2015-09-07/226793-nevyezdnaja-strana.html).
According to the paper’s Georgy Stepanov, this is “the biggest decline” in that statistic over the last two decades. Nothing like it happened either in 1998 [the year of the Russian default] or in 2009 [when the international economic crisis hit].” The reason is a “banal” one, he suggests: most Russians simply do not have the money to make such trips now.
According to the Association of Russian Tour Operators, the number of Russians who will travel abroad this year will be between ten and eleven million, down from 17.6 million last year. That group says that the declining value of the ruble against currencies like the US dollar and the EU euro are pricing foreign travel beyond the means of ever more Russians.
The decline in the number of Russians travelling abroad began in the spring of 2014 before sanctions were introduced, a reflection of the fall of the ruble which in turn was the result of falling oil prices. But a certain role appears to have been played, Stepanov says, by “the escalation in Russian society of an anti-Western information psychology campaign.”
Average Russians, Moscow tourist agency officials say, quickly discovered that “with rare exceptions,” those who did go abroad did not encounter any of the problems the Russian media had led them to expect. And consequently, these officials suggest, the impact of that campaign on Russians’ travel plans quickly declined. The economic factor dominates.
The decline in the number of Russians travelling abroad has led to “one absolutely new phenomenon.” Ever more Russians are seeking to cancel their reservations and get their money back, something that is creating serious problems for many tour companies, more than half of which have gone out of business over the last year.
Another development has been a rising tide of complaints by Russians that Aeroflot has not cut fares despite the declines in the price of fuel. One reason the airline hasn’t is that the prices it pays for licensing planes as well as landing rights and other services abroad have gone up.
At the same time, Stepanov writes, one should not exaggerate the impact of this. Today, only 18 percent of the Russian population has a passport for travelling abroad, and over the last 25 years, only 20 percent of Russians have gone abroad, including to visit relatives in the post-Soviet states.
In the long term, Russian tour operators expect foreign travel to make a comeback; but in the next few months, they say, the current downward trend is likely to continue and may even intensify.
Meanwhile, a survey by VTsIOM found that “only 26 percent” of Russians had visited Moscow even once over the last four years, and that 34 percent of all Russians said they had never been in the Russian capital, a remarkable pattern given the Moscow-centricity of Russian life (nr2.com.ua/News/culture_and_science/Sociologi-mnozhestvo-rossiyan-nikogda-ne-byvali-v-sobstvennoy-stolice-105502.html).
The poll found two other interesting patterns: Russians living in cities with a population of a million or more were less likely to have visited Moscow than those living in smaller cities or rural areas, and those without completed educations were more likely to visit the Russian capital than those with diplomas and degrees.