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City news, 24.06.2003 20:42

Tourism Industry Counts Costs of Throwing a Party

Although the City Administration has yet to release any official statistics on the number of tourists who visited St. Petersburg during the 300th anniversary celebrations, travel companies and hotels have already begun to collate their results.

Although the City Administration has yet to release any official statistics on the number of tourists who visited St. Petersburg during the 300th anniversary celebrations, travel companies and hotels have already begun to collate their results.

Travel businesses appear to have weathered the difficulties presented by jubilee well, and are now have high hopes for the future, believing that the celebrations will continue to boost in-coming tourism in the coming months.

Most travel companies working in the incoming-tourism sector faced difficulties both with hotels and with accommodation in general during the jubilee period. "We turned away 1,500 tourists from St. Petersburg between May 15 and May 27, due to problems with accommodation, although, on the actual anniversary dates, we found out that there were spare rooms at hotels," said Valery Friedman, the general director of Mir travel company, which serviced 1,172 tourists between May 25 and June 5.

"From May 17, hotels were asking us to pass tourists on to them, but we're not the fire service, and we're not able to fill in all the necessary documents that quickly," he said.

Natalia Belik, the spokesperson for the Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel, said that the hotel was only 56.3-percent full this May, while it was 75-percent full during the same month last year.

Galina Kurnikova, the director of the Neptune Hotel, said that the hotel was 50 percent full during the celebration - the normal figure for December. "Now the occupancy is increasing and will soon reach 90 percent."

Kurnikova believes that, as a result of the anniversary celebration, the number of tourists coming to St. Petersburg will grow by 5 percent to 8 percent in the near future.

During the anniversary period, another local travel company, Fremad Russia, accepted only a fraction of the amount of tourists that it usually services. "We've had only 20 percent of the number of tourists that we had in the same period last year. Our company was only accepting tourists if our partners insisted on it, although we had explained to them that there would be difficulties and we wouldn't be able to provide a full service," said Gennady Gostyev, the company deputy general director.

Fridman said that one of the major problems facing many travel companies during the jubilee, concerned a need to extend visas for one day. "When we provided visa support to our clients, we didn't know about the decision to close the airport, and were arranging visas which expired on June 1. But, as Pulkovo was closed for flights, we had to extend the visas urgently."

Another problem, according to travel experts, was created by the difficulties in moving around the city with so many roads closed for official delegations.

"I was driving round the city in my car, looking for open roads, and then calling bus drivers to give them instructions where to go," Fridman said.

The State Hermitage Museum, an "obligatory" sightseeing destination for every travel group, also noticed a fall in the number of foreign visitors during the jubilee. A spokesperson for the museum said that for all of May, and particularly the last week of the month, there was a drastic decline in the number of foreign visitors - the drop was so huge that it could only be compared with the fall following the September 11 attacks. The only exception was on the anniversary night, when the museum worked 24 hours and entrance was free.

Experts in the tourist industry believe that this fall in numbers was caused by the lack of spare hotel beds. However, they are expecting a boom in the number of visitors in the period immediately after the celebrations. While 25,800 foreign tourists who had pre-booked with travel companies visited the Hermitage in May, advance bookings for foreign visitors in June topped 63,300.

Sergei Korneyev, director of the Northwest branch of the Russian Union of the Travel Industry, said that the anniversary will have a positive influence on the local travel market. "Firstly, the jubilee will dispel the misconception that St. Petersburg is a city full of dull monuments, where nothing ever happens and there's nothing to do, making people think twice about coming to the city. Numerous television programs showed the city as a modern, vibrant and constantly changing place," Korneyev said.

"Secondly, the presence of political leaders from all over the world demonstrated to potential tourists that St. Petersburg is a safe city."

The influence of the anniversary celebrations will not only be restricted to perceptions, however. Korneyev said that the major events timed to coincide with the celebrations would also lead to concrete results. "The main problem for St. Petersburg tourism is its seasonal character, and that can be solved through the development of conference tourism, through the organization of congresses, conferences and seminars. The Russia-EU summit was a good example of that," Korneyev said.

Korneyev stressed that, as well as pros, the jubilee celebrations had brought some cons. "I hope that the unjustifiable rise in hotel prices won't last long after the celebrations, and that St. Petersburg will be able to provide travel accommodation at competitive prices," he said. "If increases in hotel prices aren't matched by improvements in service, the world travel market may well forget about the promotional effect of the 300th anniversary, because there will be other big events going on, such as the Olympic Games in Athens. That's why I believe a 10-percent to 15-percent increase in the volume of tourists will be a sufficiently positive outcome of the jubilee.

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