Russians became enthusiastic travelers after the Soviet Union broke up, and two of their most cherished winter getaways were the sunny resorts of Egypt and Turkey.
But those countries are now off-limits, and Russia’s sagging economy and sinking currency are also keeping many at home.
Just a year ago, ads for vacation travel packages were everywhere on Russian television.
Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, was a favorite spot for Russian tourists, with warm, sandy beaches of a kind that are hard to find in Russia.
But after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkey-Syria border in November, Russia banned tourists from traveling there.
Travel to Egypt was also banned, after terrorists blew up a Russian jetliner bringing tourists home from holidays on the Red Sea. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility in that case.
That was a heavy blow for travel agencies, since nearly 3 million Russians visited Egypt just last year, says Andrey Gavrilov, president of the Alliance of Tour Agencies, an industry lobby group.
“Travel agencies tried to suggest different destinations, like [the United] Arab Emirates, like Israel, and other countries,” he says.
Russian tourists also looked to resorts further afield, in Southeast Asia, such as Cambodia and Thailand, he adds.
“But for a shorter period of time and maybe a different category of hotels, I mean, four stars instead of five stars, in order to be closer to their budgets,” he notes.
The devalued ruble, he says, has raised the cost of overseas travel by more than 30 percent. That makes domestic travel a lot more attractive.
Staying Closer To Home
I went to Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport to see where Russians are going to spend their New Year holidays, when much of the country shuts down for more than a week.
A couple of young men with snowboards were checking in for a flight to Sochi, in southern Russia.
Alexander Vasiliyev, 29, said they planned to spend New Year’s with friends at the new ski resort built for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Vasiliyev says they would have gone to Europe, but there’s not much snow this year, so Sochi is just as good and, he says, much cheaper.
His buddy Anton Chernoyarov, 28, said they wouldn’t go to Turkey on principle; they’re patriots and the Turks shot down their plane.
Anna Kravchenko and Denis Belov were traveling on business, but said they’re thinking about where to spend their holidays.
“England or Europe,” says Belov.
“But it depends on the situation next year,” adds Kravchenko.
She’s 32 and a homemaker. He’s a realtor, age 44.
Turkey and Egypt are not great losses to them, because they’ve visited each several times.
They’ve been to Europe, too, during their student days, but they’re feeling a certain urgency about going back.
“Europe is changing now, and we don’t know how it will be in five years, 10 years,” Belov says. “I think Europe will change extremely.”
Kravchenko says that’s because “we have heard from the friends that the German cities, for example, Frankfurt, it’s changing because of people with another culture.”
What they’re saying reflects what Russians are hearing on state-run television — that Europe is being degraded by the arrival of Muslim refugees.
The official line promoted by Russia’s tourism chief, Oleg Safonov, is that foreign beach vacations are alien to Russian tradition.
His assertion proved embarrassing when it emerged that Safonov himself had owned two houses in the Seychelles Islands, a sunny paradise in the Indian Ocean.