Russian market on slow recovery track

SINGAPORE, 9 February 2022: This year, Russian outbound travel is expected to increase by 64% when compared to 2021 and 96% when compared to 2020, according to ForwardKeys’ latest forecast data.

Commenting on the timeframe for recovery to 2019 levels, ForwardKeys China Market Expert Nan Dai says: “Looking at the current pattern and pace for bookings, it is expected to recover to 2019 levels approximately in three to four years.”

The Top Performing Destinations in APAC in 2021

Thailand, as the top Asian destination for Russian travellers in 2019, accounted for 37% of the market shares of all destinations in Asia. Back then Sri Lanka represented merely 3%, ranking 9th in the top Asian destination list, according to ForwardKeys’ Total Air Market (TAM) data.

However, things shifted in 2021, with Thailand’s market share decreasing to 11%, while Sri Lanka increased its shares to 4%, jumping to the fourth position in the ranking.

During the pandemic, travel restriction has been a major concern and barrier for holidaymakers. Russia is not included in Thailand’s Test and Go Approved Countries list. Russians are only allowed to arrive at certain locations in Thailand through the Sandbox programme and stay there for at least seven days before travelling to other areas in Thailand.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka proactively launched tourism promotion initiatives with Russia last September. More importantly, Sri Lankan Airlines has returned to Russia with direct flights since last summer, after a break of six years.

Is the outlook for 2022 better?

Thailand has been the old favourite for Russian travellers, although the number of travellers is still much behind the pre-pandemic level.

“But I think that is mostly because Thailand’s reopening time was later than the other destinations in the region, such as the Maldives and Sri Lanka,” comments Dai. “Thailand’s Sandbox programme started last July, and the country launched the ‘Test and Go’ programme last November 2021; Sri Lanka in January 2021 and Maldives in July 2020.”

In 2021, Russian travel to Asia, in general, has recovered only 3% of a pre-pandemic level. Major destinations such as Thailand are recovering by 4%, Singapore by 18%, Indonesia by 4% and Vietnam by 1%.

Forward-looking air tickets for Russian outbound travel in January and February 2022 capture a preference for sun and sea leisure destinations.

Sri Lanka does appear with a 30% growth in issued tickets for holiday travel from Russia in January and February, but the share volume is the same as last year, just 4%.

The UAE is the most booked destination, with a slight 2% decrease compared to 2019’s number. Thailand ranks second, followed by the Maldives, which saw a dramatic increase of 142%!

In 2021, the Maldives was the only destination seeing an increase in Russian arrivals when compared to 2019. Its success has been attributed to a wise move on the part of marketing activities to new source markets.

“According to Visit Maldives, a client of ForwardKeys, due to the pandemic, they altered their focus to utilize online & digital platforms to maintain the destination presence and partnered with some of the leading Russian tourism-related organizations, operators, travel agents and travel TV channels to spread the knowledge about the Maldives to boost arrivals from Russia,” adds Dai.

Traditionally popular destinations such as Turkey and Egypt also top the list. Where bookings to Turkey is down by 20% compared to 2019 levels, Egypt has experienced an increase of 272%.

“It appears the sun and sea of the Maldives and Egypt are winning over Russian travellers this year,” adds Dai.