Russia needs to ensure it has the right policies in place to make the most of the tourism legacy presented by the Sochi Olympic Games.
That is according to World Travel & Tourism Council president David Scowsill, the authority on the economic and social impact of the global travel industry.
Scowsill argued Russia needs to have a high quality product to appeal to the International visitor: “
He added: “There is no point hosting a prestige event, at a cost of US$50 billion, if the standard of hotels and ease of travel around the country isn’t in step.
“In Sochi, for example some of the feedback has been that hotels have not been fully ready, hotel rates have been steep and there have been problems with services such as internet access.
“They need to get the product right, going forward”.
Scowsill went on to say it’s also important that Russia makes it as easy as possible for international visitors to come to the country for a short amount of time.
“Russia has been making some strides at improving its visa processes recently. But its visa application processes can still be lengthy and burdensome; for example, group applications are not considered.
“To get to the Games, Russia’s security agencies have issued special passports to all spectators to filter out potential terrorists.
“We hope that these policies have not put potential tourists off visiting Russia or restricted the number of spectators at the Games,” said Scowsill.
WTTC’s latest research shows that tourism currently generates 4.1 million jobs in Russia (5.7 per cent of all employment) and was responsible for six per cent of Russia’s economy in 2012 - a larger contribution than many industries including automotive manufacturing, communication services, education, chemicals manufacturing and higher education.
Scowsill argued the economic potential of tourism in Russia is too big to ignore.
“This new research underlines the impact, which tourism currently has and can continue to have on Russia’s economic fortunes.
“Mining has historically been a mainstay of Russia’s economy but is losing significance and tourism offers an excellent alternative. Russia needs to invest in its transport and tourism infrastructure to ensure it has an appealing product for middle class International visitors,” he added.
In 2011, Russia’s new federal tourism development programme was created to improve the image of Russia as a tourism destination, promote the national tourism product, stimulate foreign investment in the Russian tourism infrastructure and increase the competitiveness of the Russian tourism industry.
In, 2009, a law was passed that made it possible for visitors arriving by cruise ship or ferry to stay in Russia for up to three days without a visa.
Russia has also recently cancelled visa requirements between itself and South Korea.
Scowsill believes that Russia needs to act now, on the back of the Olympics, if it is make the most of the opportunity to boost Russia’s economy through tourism in the future.
He added: “It is vital that the Russian Government now elevates the tourism industry alongside Russia’s traditional industrial base, when considering long-term policies to create jobs, growth and economic prosperity.
“Russia has announced in the last week that it is considering allowing foreigners arriving in the country by train to stay three days without the need for a visa.
“It is this type of visa facilitation improvement, which Russia needs to bring in, if it is to capitalise on the exciting tourism opportunities from the growing middle class in Asia.”