From Russia with love

Business and leisure travellers from Russia and the CIS are flocking to the UAE, and the local industry is starting to seriously tap into this goldmine

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By  Joseph Mortimer Published  December 3, 2006

|~|Russia-large.gif|~|Ghassan Aridi, CEO, Alpha Tours, claims 95% of the UAE’s Russian arrivals are leisure travellers.|~|Russian travellers have been visiting Dubai since the early 1990s, but every year arrivals from this market increase and inbound tour operators cannot afford to ignore the significant money making opportunities they represent. Russia’s increasingly affluent holidaymakers are drawn to the UAE’s year-round warm climate, luxury hotels, and the country’s relative close proximity – just four hours, 30 minute by air. Peak season for travel to the UAE is November to March, when temperatures in Russia plunge below zero degrees. According to the Dubai Department of Transport and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), more than 422,000 Russians stayed in Dubai’s hotels in 2005, and there was a 10% increase in the number of Russians using Dubai International Airport compared to the previous year. Around 830 Russian tour operators featured Dubai packages in their 2005/2006 brochures representing a 38% hike on 2004. World Tourism Organisation figures reveal that the number of Russian visitors to the UAE increases by around 16% every year. Better accessibility, thanks to a greater number of direct flights, more hotel rooms, and the DTCM’s extensive marketing and promotional campaigns, have turned Russia and the neighbouring Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) into one of the most important source tourist markets for Dubai. With this in mind, the DTCM regularly participates in key tourism fairs and road shows throughout Russia and the CIS. In September, it took part in the Russian Travel and Tourism Exhibition (Leisure-2006), the leading travel fair for the Russian and CIS markets, for the ninth consecutive year. DTCM hosted a 280m² Dubai stand comprising 44 booths and involving 61 co-participants, at the show, which took place at the Crocus Expo in Moscow, from September 19 to 22, coinciding with the start of the Russian winter holiday season. The DTCM also has a representative office in Moscow to promote Dubai to the Russian, CIS and Baltic regions, and conducts regular sponsored familiarisation trips for the Russian media and tour operators. The UAE’s DMCs have also played a major role in developing Russia’s inbound market and have reaped dividends. According to Ghassan Aridi, CEO, Alpha Tours, the Russia and the CIS combined is the second most important source market after the UK. Historically, top-end leisure tourists would come from Moscow in private jets for the shopping, he said, but the reasons for visiting the UAE have changed over the years. “They were coming in groups on charter flights, and for every charter, there would be two cargo charters behind,” he said. The cargo aircraft would return to Russia laden with consumer goods the visitors had bought on their buying missions. “Now, 95% are coming for leisure. Russian tourists spend the most excess money in hotels – bigger amounts than any other tourists when it comes to excess charges,” Aridi added. He said most Russian visitor opt for “big name luxury hotels”, and that the Ukraine and Kazakhstan are the biggest CIS source markets. “Access is becoming increasingly available for that sector of the market, and flying time is between four-and-a-half and five hours maximum,” he explained. Weekly commercial flights between Dubai and Russia hit the 38 mark in 2005, compared to just six in 2002, and according to Aridi, around six private charter flights arrive daily. Emirates Airlines flies daily to the Russian capital, Moscow, and Russian carrier Trans Aero, operates two Moscow-Dubai flights weekly, using a Boeing 747 aircraft. The carrier plans to introduce services to Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in the near future, but no fixed dates have been revealed. National carrier Aeroflot also has daily flights between Moscow and Dubai, and CIS-based airline, Air Astana, now operates five weekly flights between Dubai and Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial hub. Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia also operates two weekly flights to Almaty and one to Astana. With Russian arrivals on the rise, Alpha Tours has employed 35 Russian employees, whose job functions range from call centre staff to drivers and tour guides. The company also played a pivotal role in the annual Natalie Tours Congress, a six-day gathering hosted by Russia’s biggest tour operator at Grosvenor House Hotel in Dubai. The DTCM, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) supported the event, which was attended by 220 travel industry professionals from Natalie Tours’ Russian network. Another leading UAE travel agency, Planet Travel and Tours, recently hosted a three-day conference in Dubai in association with Russian tour operator, Capital Tours. According to George Moussa, managing director, Planet Travel & Tours, Russia’s outbound MICE market is bursting with promise for the UAE. “We [recently] secured a big incentive group of 150 VIP Russians coming by private jet to Dubai, contributing more than AED 1 million ($272,260) to the emirate’s economy,” he explained. Travel by private jet is particularly popular thanks to the number of top end visitors with extra cash to spend, he added. Abu Dhabi-based luxury private jet company, Royal Jet, has noted strong demand for luxury services from the Russian market and exhibited at the ‘Extravaganza’ international luxury lifestyle show in Moscow (October 26 to 28), to test the water ahead of possible expansion in the region, according to chairman, HE Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan. “Russian clients are not only seeking services to the Middle East, but beyond, particularly to the Maldives andSeychelles,” he explained. According to Ammar Balkar, senior vice president sales and marketing, Royal Jet, the company has seen 50% increase in enquiries from Russia over “the last couple of years”. “Russians are highly conscious of safety issues, especially related to terrorism,” he said. “Private airlines offer superior security features and operate confidentially; an important consideration for Russia’s elite.” Russian investment in the UAE had also generated business travel to Dubai, he said: “With some 36 billionaires and hundreds of millionaires in Russia, the opportunity for Royal Jet to demonstrate its superior service to this market could not be overlooked.||**||

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