The majestic Russian city of St Petersburg is a magnet for business and cultural tourism. Olga Rendino, deputy general director of the St Petersburg Convention Bureau, here shares the city’s pragmatic solutions to tackling the challenges set by Covid-19, and its roadmap to recovery, including staging UEFA Euro Cup matches this summer.
Breaking Travel News: What is the status of business travel to St Petersburg? And what changes did you implement in order to continue operating during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Olga Rendino: The start of 2020, like the start of any new year, was full of ambitious plans and projects.
St Petersburg’s MICE industry was gearing up for what would undoubtedly be a thriving year with major events, key exhibitions and trade shows.
However, business travel came to a halt during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Due to the closure of borders quarantine measures and the cancellation of events in 2020, the flow of business tourists to St Petersburg went down significantly.
As a result, stay-at-home restrictions have required many of us to adopt new ways and formats of communication.
As well as millions around the globe, we began to hold virtual meetings using hybrid and digital solutions to host conferences and make sure that St Petersburg remains a leading destination for tourists after the pandemic.
Currently the city is getting the coronavirus outbreak under control and our hospitality industry is slowly getting back onto its feet.
With that major events gradually begin to start up again: the 24th St Petersburg International Economic Forum is set to take place on June 2nd–5th; the UEFA Euro Cup matches to be held between June 11th and July 11th; the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX), brought to the city by a member of unique ‘Ambassadors’ programme led by the bureau, is to take place from June 14th–18th.
BTN: Describe how the lockdown experience was in St. Petersburg, and how did this compare to the bustle of normal times.
OR: When the pandemic came along, nobody expected to see cities locked down longer than a few weeks, or people told to stay home for months at a time.
Despite the coronavirus outbreak St Petersburg did not become a less popular tourist destination and managed to consolidate its positions as an influential tourist market player and a leading tourist attraction throughout 2020.
The city started to expand its support of the tourism market and launched several innovative projects to help the sector reopen tourism-related businesses and manage their recovery in a way that is safe, attractive for tourists, and economically viable.
The measures drafted to support the industry – the total amount of financial support provided by the city government equals to four billion roubles, which indicate the importance of tourism and the potential it has in helping the economy in the post-pandemic times.
Additionally, St Petersburg became the first city in Russia to join Safe Travels, the international WTTC programme for safe tourism.
As part of this initiative key players of the city tourism industry receive a special Safe Travels SPB sign as a recognition of health and hygiene protocols implemented by these organisations and aligned with WTTC’s Global Safe Travels Protocols.
For tourists, this sign is a guarantee that the services provided by the city tourism organisations meet the necessary sanitary and safety standards.
BTN: With the resumption of international travel thankfully back on the horizon, how do you see the next year mapping out for business travel to St Petersburg?
OR: Of course, we are still struggling to understand how quickly both business and leisure travel can recover, but we are confident that there is a growing deferred demand in tourism and offline meetings.
While Zoom can certainly be a convenient communication tool, it is hard to overestimate the effectiveness of in-person meetings especially when building business relationships.
They are focused on human connections, require all participants to be fully present, and understand the culture and traditions.
As for the bureau, this year we are planning to organise St Petersburg Travel Hub, a major travel forum which was successfully held in 2019 as part of the 23rd General Assembly of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), bringing together more than 30 regions of the Russian Federation and receiving high praise from the international and regional professional community.
Unfortunately, due to the safety measures we had to cancel the event in 2020.
Also with the support of the St Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development, the bureau is actively working to attract significant international business events to the city.
As a result, in the near future St Petersburg is hosting such large-scale world congresses and conventions as International Congress of Mathematicians ICM, World Energy Council WEC, Worldchefs Congress & Expo, International Geological Congress (IGC) and others.
BTN: What makes St Petersburg such an ideal destination for business travel?
OR: St Petersburg is a modern metropolis and a welcoming destination, which offers a huge range of opportunities for business and cultural events organisation.
Convenient transport infrastructure, developed travel and hospitality services, and extraordinary range of itineraries help to attract more and more world-class events to the city.
There are currently over 200 MICE venues in St Petersburg: from truly modern facilities with a range of capacities to historical venues such as the National Congress Palace state complex, and the former residence of the Grand Dukes of the house of Romanovs.
The city’s luxury hotels are also courting business travellers with new meeting spaces and ballrooms.
St Petersburg Convention Bureau’s activities are aligned with the practices and standards of sustainable development.
Our partners, city’s major venues and convention hotels also support this trend and hold the recognised sustainability certificates such as ISO, Green Key, Vitality Leaf, etc.
BTN: Why is collaboration across the global travel industry essential to navigating the post-pandemic landscape?
OR: Collaboration is the way ahead and will remain so in the future if we are to build a better industry and traveller experience for all.
In an effort to continue international cooperation during the pandemic, the bureau held a series of events aimed at discussing the priority directions of the industry
development between regional and international industry representatives.
For example, we organised an online seminar which brought together industry alliance, heads of Convention Bureaus and global associations executives: AIPC (The International Association of Convention Centres), ICCA (The International Congress and Convention Association), UFI (The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry).
The focus was made on broadening the horizons of collaboration, transformation in the context of the crisis and the value of industry revitalisation.
Collaboration is also one of the reasons why the bureau has initiated St Petersburg ambassadors’ program.
It is worth mentioning that the Northern Capital became the first city in Russia to launch this strategically significant program in 2018.
Ambassadors are professionals who are renowned in their field (higher education, science, medicine or economics) and are active members of national or international associations, institutions and bodies.
There are currently 24 ambassadors, who work closely with us and St Petersburg Committee for tourism development to attract national and international conferences and events in the city, and also play a fundamental role in adding to the destination’s reputation and high ranking.
Breaking Travel News: Have you had any positive changes in your own outlook in reaction to the crisis?
OR: I believe that this reset could actually improve business travel from both a health and safety perspective, and in terms of the actual mechanisms which we have always wanted to test but never had the chance to.
Simultaneously, the domestic tourism market has increased.
Russia is a huge country full of amazing places and great opportunities.
The pandemic has once again reminded us of this, giving us a possibility to explore and promote our homeland.
Find out more about the St Petersburg Convention Bureau on the official website.