Staunton, August 20 – Perhaps the most beloved anecdote in Estonia since its recovery of independence in 1991 is about an Estonian border guard who asks a Russian his “occupation” to which the Russian replies that no, he is “just visiting,” a joke that takes on a whole new meaning now that Russians are again flocking to what in Soviet times they called “our abroad.”
Rising prices, a weakening ruble, and terrorist incidents in Western Europe and elsewhere have led ever more Russians to decide that “the Baltics have become closer than the dacha” and thus to take vacations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, according to Mikhail Bely, a journalist for the URA.ru news agency (ura.news/articles/1036271875).
According to the journalist, the number of Russians going from St. Petersburg to Tallinn and Riga jumped 11 percent and seven percent respectively between the summer of 2015 and the summer of 2016. This year, Moscow specialists on tourism observer, the increases may be even larger.
“The Baltics always have had their segment of tourists,” Roman Bobylev, an expert on tourism in the Russian Social Chamber for Tourism. “For Rusisans, the Baltics always were ‘the closest point of Europe,” and to go from Moscow to Riga by air takes only an hour, less time than to reach one’s dacha. “In this sense, the Baltics are simply a mecca for Europe fans.”
Russians dominate the tourist market in the three Baltic countries, he continues, because even though there are tensions between those countries and Russia, relations at the individual level are fine. Other Russian experts confirm this and also point to the fact that many Russian tourists are now buying property in the Baltic countries.
Moscow political analyst Oleg Ivanov says that in addition to the absence of a language barrier – most restaurants and hotels in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have staffs who speak Russian – these three countries have become increasingly attractive destinations because they are stable, without the kind of terrorist incidents observed elsewhere.
Nikolay Mezhevich, an economist at St. Petersburg State University says that no one should confuse tourism with emigration even if Russians buy property in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. According to him, Russians don’t see good economic prospects for themselves as residents of the three but do see them as attractive places to spend their summers.