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Hotels tide over slump on Russian wave

Mumbai, July 6: “The Russians are coming! Lord make us so strong, we can kill every one of those beggarly sons of the devil before they leave home.” This War relic has few takers in India. Not R. K. Krishna Kumar at least, the vice-chairman of Indian Hotels.

Russians travelers, he says, have helped the Taj group beat the slump. Much of the 40 per cent rise in Russian tourists, he says, has spilled over in Goa, where hotels saw a sharp drop in holiday-seekers from Europe.

The Russians have filled rooms that were going abegging after travel advisories in the wake of the Iraq war scared potential tourists away. The economic recession in many parts of Europe, especially in Germany, also forced travellers to shelve vacation plans.

Says Ranjit Malkani, chairman & CEO of Kuoni India & Asia: “Our figures indicate that around 250 Russian tourists arrive every week. While fresh figures from the department of tourism are yet to come, we reckon that there has been a rise of at least 40 per cent in Russian tourists to India in the last two years.”

This has revived a trend seen until seven years ago, when India hosted Russian tourist groups regularly. The visitors vanished with the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the formation of the Confederations.

“It has all changed in the last one year when we have seen Russian tourists visit Goa through charters for the entire season (October to March),” Malkani added.

Beate Mauder, vice-president (sales & marketing) of Indian Hotels, sees the Russian resurgence as a new pattern. “We have been focussing on emerging markets like Russia and we have even participated in MITT, the most high-profile travel fair in Moscow. This has helped us get more and more tourists from Russia.”

According to Ameeta Munshi, a consultant in corporate communications for Thomas Cook, the coming months will see many direct charter flights from Moscow to Goa. Russians traditionally had a link with India politically, and Hindi films are a rage in Russia.

Malkani says while Russia and China will emerge as the new money-spinners for India’s tourism industry, UK, US and France would continue to be the mainstays. “The Far East is doing well and we expect China to be the next country to send in large numbers.”

The travel industry expects a larger share of business from east Asia and Japan also because they have managed to contain SARS.

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