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City news, 03.10.2003 14:11

City Plugs Fall Events To Draw Tourists

Fall Locals agree that St. Petersburg is beautiful in autumn, but most foreign and out-of-town Russian tourists prefer to go elsewhere at this time of year.

To coincide with the important occasion of the city's 300th anniversary, local authorities are making an effort to schedule as many national and international events into the diary as possible, with some of them in fall, usually a low season for traveling.

The ninth Congress of the Russian Tourism Industry Union held this week in St. Petersburg - for the first time in the history of the organization - is a case in point.

"We very much wanted to host the congress. It would be a precious opportunity for Russia's leading travel agencies - many of which are based in Moscow - to see St. Petersburg's charm in the fall," said Sergei Korneyev, the union's vice-president and head of its Northwest Region branch.

"It is fashionable to be here in the summer, but people need to be reminded that the city is no less attractive at other times of year."

The congress drew over 400 travel industry professionals from throughout Russia. They discussed the major problems in the field, including the visa regime, development of national resorts and fighting corruption.

"Business tourism is a niche with an enormous potential here," said Marina Beskrovnaya, head of the Tourism Committee of the St. Petersburg administration. "It provides one of the most efficient mechanisms to overcome dependence on White Nights popularity. I very much regret we couldn't move the economic forum from June to the fall. But we will continue inviting and organizing important international events during low season."

The committee, which records the entry of some 3 million foreign visitors, including from the CIS, to the city each year, estimates the average tourist spends $300 a day, including accommodation.

St. Petersburg is still a very season-dependent city, with travelers coming by crowds during the White Nights. The summer profits feed the town for the rest of the year. Many industry professionals believe the best prospects are for business tourism.

The first attempt at restoring the long-lost tradition of splendid winter seasons in St. Petersburg and to provide balance to the high season in winter - the Arts Square Festival at the Shostakovich Philharmonic - was held in December 2000. Now, local tour operators promote it with much enthusiasm in addition to the Stars of the White Nights summer festival, which has already received worldwide recognition.

The northern capital's finer hotels are also chipping in to help make St. Petersburg the place to visit in winter. White Days - a winter alternative to the White Nights festival - was launched last year to offer visitors discounted cultural package deals that include food and lodging.

The Grand Hotel Europe has joined together with four other leading St. Petersburg hotels - the Angleterre, Astoria, Radisson SAS and Sheraton Nevskij Palace - to offer White Days weekend packages, including a three-night stay in one of the hotels, a buffet breakfast daily, limousine service to and from the airport and tickets to the Hermitage and the Mariinsky Theater.

"When the festival started, it saddled the organizers with losses," said Alla Shpanskaya, formerly deputy director of the Philharmonic and now director of local Radio Classica. "Now, the event is known around Europe, attracting stars such as pianist Yevgeny Kissin and soprano Barbara Hendricks, and guests coming to town specifically to be here for the Arts Square."

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(c) 2000