Welcome to a new world!
Hospitality has always existed in Russia. Russian people are welcoming. However, one thing the country has always lacked is a hospitality industry. Over the past few years, however, due attention has been paid to the issue, and the hospitality industry started to develop. At the very least, the 4.5 million foreigners who visited Russia during the World Cup last year can confirm this to be the case.
Foreigners have always been cautious about travelling to Russia. And the issue is not the mysterious Russian soul, and not that Russians rarely smile. They feared the unpredictability of what Russian people refer to as “byt” – day-to-day living conditions. Foreigners didn’t know how good and convenient the hotel they plan to stay in would be, how edible the food they would be served in cafes is, and so on. Or they did know, because those who had already come to Russia talked about these issues upon their return. The main point was that there was never any options in terms of hotels or food. For example, everybody who flew with Russian airlines were shocked by the menu that only featured fried chicken that everybody said tasted like rubber. And all of this happened in spite of the fact that the country established a special organization called “Intourist” in the late 1920s in order to attract foreign tourists.
In the mid 1930s, Intourist even opened two representative offices abroad, in Germany and England. At first, the international community was skeptical about the emergence of the organization that offered travel to the USSR. To somehow turn things around, Intourist started making advertising products in foreign languages, along with the journal “Soviet Travel,” which was distributed in a number of European countries and in the US, ten thousand copies at a time. The slogans featured on posters advertising the benefits of travelling to the Soviet Union were often excessive. One such poster read: “It’s more than travel for the sake of pleasure, it’s a trip to a new world!” In any case, over 13,000 foreign tourists came to the USSR in 1936 – the highest figure recorded in the pre-war period. In the 12 years after Intourist was established and before WWII began, about 129,000 foreign tourists visited the USSR. However, in 1956 the number of foreign guests in the Soviet Union amounted to nearly 500,000. The figure reached 1.3 million people in 1965, and 3.7 million people in 1975. In 1980, the year the Olympic Games were held in Moscow, 5 million people visited the USSR. In total, over 70 million people from 162 countries visited the Soviet Union between 1956 and 1985.
Once perestroika started in 1985, foreign tourists flooded to the country, which had just opened up to the world. The hospitality industry was not in great shape back then either – there weren’t enough hotels or restaurants. For a long time, the only decent place to eat dinner in Moscow was the privately owned restaurant Kropotkinskaya 36, which opened in 1987. Many diplomats, foreign journalists, and foreign tourists included a visit to this restaurant as a mandatory part of their trip to Moscow, on par with visits to the Red Square, the Bolshoi Theatre, and Lenin’s Mausoleum! Today, Moscow has tons of cafes and restaurants for any taste. The same applies to hotels and many other things that are of interest to tourists.
Essentially, the hospitality industry in Russia started developing in the beginning of the 21st century. But a real breakthrough in this sphere, at least in Moscow, happened around nine years ago, when Sergey Sobyanin took office. As President of the Russian Tourism Industry Union Sergey Shpilko points out, Moscow is appealing not only because of the attractions, but also because of the city’s atmosphere: the people, the concert and exhibition programs, public spaces, street musicians, and clean sidewalks. “Take the swing on Triumfalnaya Square or the fleet parade on the Moscow River. In this sense, the city has completely transformed in nine years. It started with Gorky Park. Now there is a positive atmosphere everywhere, even on the outskirts of the city. Moscow not only has drive, but is just as charming as any world capital. It has become trendy on the tourist market,” he says.
As recently as 2012, Arbat was the only pedestrian area in the capital. Now there are over 350. The total length of pedestrian streets has grown five times since 2011. The city ranks seventh in the world in terms of pedestrian space, and second in the world in terms of park space. It’s no wonder that tourists prefer to explore the city on foot. They’re drawn to the renovated pavilions at VDNKh, the many squares and embankments. The city has not only become more comfortable, but more attractive as well.
In terms of the hotel industry, Moscow is one of the most developed cities both in Russia and the world. As of 2018, the number of hotel rooms has almost doubled compared to 2010.
One of the drivers of tourism growth is event tourism, which has been rapidly developing over the past few years. Festivals have already become the capital’s calling card. Last year, Moscow won the international World Festival and Event City Award as one of the best cities for holding mass festivals and events. Moreover, in 2018 Moscow made it into the top 10 cities with the best Christmas markets in The Daily Telegraph. As urbanists point out, such a large number of New Years events and decorations don’t exist in any other capital in the world.
Two years ago, the UITP International Public Transport Summit in Montreal recognized Moscow as the leading city in the comprehensive transportation system development. There are four international airports – Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo, Vnukovo, and Zhukovskiy – as well as nine train stations that are practically located in the center. And this system is always developing. You can also get to the center by taxi. Their numbers have grown by nearly six times since 2010, and is now up to almost 50,000 cars. And the wait time has been reduced significantly – it takes no longer than 5-7 minutes. In eight years, the industry has become more competitive, which means ride prices have decreased.
According to the research service Numbeo, Moscow outpaced cities like New York, Paris, London, Rome, and Barcelona on the list of the safest cities. And according to the British organization The Economist Intelligence Unit and The Economist 2019, the Russian capital is on the security rating of the largest cities in the world. Security has become a priority for Moscow over the years. Starting on June 1, 2014, a special tourist police unit has been active in the city – the officers patrol all pedestrian areas in the center and all the key tourist routes.
In a word, a trip to Moscow today is not just fun travel to, it truly a trip to a new world!