The global boom in tourism from China has not escaped Russia, with Chinese visitors accounting for the highest number of foreign tourists to the country last year. China has led global outbound travel since 2012, with around 135 million Chinese tourists traveling abroad and spending $261 billion in 2016, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. To accommodate growing tourist numbers from China, Russia has introduced visa-free travel for Chinese tour groups and hired Chinese-speaking staff at airports and train stations. China became the top source country for foreign tourists to Russia in 2014, when more than 1.1 million Chinese citizens visited Russia. Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency’s latest figures indicate a 16-percent increase of Chinese tourists coming to Russia in 2017. Finland and Poland, as the second and third sources of tourism into Russia, saw double-digit declines of 26 percent and 33 percent each.
Russia is looking for a few good men and women who can shoot a gun and speak a bit of English. Knowledge of French and Spanish or perhaps even Chinese would also be a plus for joining a new “tourist police” force, launched by Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. Russia is out to build a reputation as a welcoming place to visit despite a new spike in diplomatic tensions with the West. First-time visitors to Russia had previously been startled to discover almost no English signage on the streets. But the Moscow metro — the bustling lifeline of one of Europe’s biggest cities — introduced English station names for last year’s Confederations Cup. It now intends to identify which ticket vendors speak English with colourful stickers on their booths. The subway system is also putting up directions pointing fans to stadiums and where to go once they get there. Other cities are slowly playing catchup by introducing English announcements on buses and trams.
According to figures from the Russian Federal Security Service, which records the arrivals of foreign citizens, there was a 25% increase between January and September 2017 compared with the previous year. Across the entire 12 months, the increase was 26%. When you include every category of travel, such as business, arrivals from the US went up by about 18%. It reflects an upward trend that started in 2015, the year after the conflict erupted in Crimea between pro-Russian forces and Ukraine. At the time, the Russian tourism agency linked the political tensions to reduced travel from the US and Europe.