Moscow misses its Indian tourists and is ready welcome them back, says Head of MICE, Moscow Tourism ahead of virtual Indian showcase

In an exclusive chat with Travel News Digest, Ksenya Boykova, Head of International Affairs & MICE, Moscow Project Office for Tourism and Hospitality Development talks of tourism in Moscow and post COVID plans.

1. What were the tourist arrival figures for Moscow prior to the COVID-19 pandemic? What share of Indian tourists did Moscow receive?

During the last 10 years, the number of tourists in Moscow was growing every year. Since 2010, the number of visitors in the city of Moscow has almost doubled and reached 25,1 million in 2019. The number of Indian tourists in Moscow was growing as well and reached more than 89 thousand in 2019. In terms of the number of foreign tourists in Moscow India was ranked 3rd out of the ATOR countries without taking into account China.

The number of tourists coming from India to Russia before the pandemic was growing annually by 18-20% and in terms of growth rate India was ranked 5th.

The tourism industry has become a serious source of revenue for the city budget. The contribution of the tourism industry to the city’s economy has almost quadrupled since 2011 — from 37,3 to 147 billion rubles.
Of course, this year the situation is different, the borders are closed to foreign tourists. But the most important thing in the current situation is to preserve the safety and health of citizens.

2. When will Moscow open its borders to international tourists? What new rules are being put in place?

We would like to welcome foreign tourists as soon as possible. However, we understand that the main priority now is to ensure the safety of every resident and guest of our capital. Safety is one of the basic principles of Moscow’s hospitality. Especially these days. Sanitary measures are applied to all elements of the public, gastronomic, shopping, transportation and tourist infrastructure in Moscow. Among them: regular wet cleaning with antiseptics, body temperature measurements, physical distancing.

While the borders are still closed, everyone can get the latest information on Moscow’s top sights, family vacation destinations, and cultural and culinary events on our web platform #Moscowwithyou. There is also the official tourist information portal Discover. Moscow where everyone can find hints on “hidden places” that are known only to Moscovites, get acquainted with the history of the city, get useful information and read interesting articles: interviews with chefs of Moscow restaurants, unique archival materials about the capital, stories about the city’s everyday life.

3. Tell us a little about what role Indian tourists play/could play for Moscow?

In recent years, Moscow has confidently ranked among the world’s leading capitals and tourism centres. This is confirmed by independent ratings. Moscow won for the second year in a row, the World’s Leading City Destination award this year.

Moscow does everything to ensure that tourists from all over the world get positive impressions and gain a unique experience when traveling to Moscow.

India is a very promising market for us in terms of tourism. Moscow is ready to offer its unique opportunities for recreation, cultural, business and educational tourism. Our city has not only a huge number of historical and modern attractions, congress and exhibition venues, leading educational institutions, but also infrastructure, including restaurants that is friendly to Indian tourists.

The perspectives for mutual tourist flows were also highly evaluated by airlines before the pandemic. Although only Aeroflot (Moscow-Delhi) and Ural airlines (Moscow-Mumbai) provided regular flights between our countries before, both Russian and Indian airlines were planning to launch new flights between Moscow, Delhi and Mumbai in the spring and summer. We hope that these plans will be realized in the nearest future.

Moreover, from January 2021 tourists from 52 countries including India will be able to apply for e-visas, opening Russia to millions of tourists from across the globe. We hope that the introduction of e-visa will lead to the increase in the tourist flow from India to Moscow. It will be very easy to visit Moscow or any other city in Russia, learn the great cultural and historical heritage of this country: all applications will be processed online without the need to visit a consulate in person or fill out any paperwork. And Moscow is no doubt more than ready to welcome new guests. Out of the 29 locations where the simplified visa procedure can be used to enter Russia 3 are located in Moscow: in Russia’s largest airports at Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo and Vnukovo.

By the way, Moscow launched the innovative digital service RUSSPASS this past summer. It is an end-to-end tourist service. Any person living in Moscow, or anywhere inside or outside Russia can easily and comfortably put together a customized travel itinerary or pick a ready-made tourist product. With RUSSPASS, it takes only a few mouse-clicks to organize one’s tour end-to-end. It is now available in English and Russian, but more languages are to come in 2021.

4. What prompted the decision to host the virtual event and what are your expectations from it?

To continue the international exchange in the current situation, the Moscow City Tourism Committee launched a new format of international cooperation — a digital roadshow. The program includes business negotiations with potential partners and a presentation of Moscow’s tourism potential. The first digital roadshow was held in June. Moscow experts and representatives of the tourism industry held negotiations with colleagues from the Persian Gulf countries (UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region). And last week we had a digital roadshow in South-Eastern Asia and virtually met colleagues from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

Organization of such roadshow gives Moscow the opportunity to generate interest in the destination for future trips, and industry representatives — to meet new tour operators and find potential partners.

5. Once the situation normalizes, do you have plans of organizing any roadshows in India? If yes, which cities would you target?

We are interested in strengthening the dialogue between the tourism industry in Moscow and India, and that is why it is important for us to participate in tourist events, which allow us to present information about tour operators, hotel chains and tourist sites in the Russian capital, as well as to talk about Moscow as a modern, interesting and comfortable megapolis with the rich history and culture.
And the roadshow gives the perfect platform by bringing travel industry professionals together to discuss opportunities in the domestic and outbound markets of India.

In 2019, we planned a number of business activities in the Indian market, including organizing sales visits to the offices of leading Indian tourism companies located in Mumbai and Delhi, as well as participating with a stand and a cultural program in the international tourism exhibition ITB India, which was first scheduled to take place in April. However, the global pandemic has made its own adjustments, and we have had to turn to digital tools for communicating with b2b audiences. And this has its advantages: we can establish a direct dialogue with as many regions of India as possible. Therefore, our digital roadshow, in fact, covers the entire Indian market.

As for 2021, we hope for rapid stabilization and opening of international borders. In the meantime, we focus on online tools.

6. What other activities are you planning for Indian agents? Is there a certification program?

We’re now launching the Discover Moscow e-learning platform for foreign travel agents. There you can find different themed online courses, attending which you can improve your knowledge of Moscow and its tourist products. The platform is free but registration is required.
This program can be useful for agents both before and after our roadshow to learn more about Moscow, its history, places of interest, and the latest trends. Also, you can answer the quiz questions, and get a Moscow Tourist Product Expert Certificate.

In future, we are going to increase the number of courses to let everyone discover more different aspects of Moscow and its products.

7. What message would you like to share with the Indian travel trade fraternity?

Moscow missed its guests, and the hospitality and festive atmosphere is something we are always happy to share with everyone. We are glad to welcome tourists from India and pay maximum attention to all necessary safety measures.

Moscow has everything to fully meet the needs of foreign tourists and offers a wide range of tourist products — this applies to convenient flights, Moscow’s transport infrastructure, security systems, a developed hospitality sector with a high level of service, as well as a whole range of entertainment and unique experience that one can get travelling to our beautiful city!