Why Russian outbound tourism is collapsing


The latest data from ForwardKeys reveals that Russian outbound tourism, already severely handicapped by Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions, has fallen even further, because of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. In the week before the outbreak of war (w/c 18th February), outbound international air tickets from Russia stood at 42% of pre-pandemic levels; but in the week immediately after the invasion (w/c 25th February), issued air tickets fell to just 19%. Since then, flight bookings have sunk deeper still and have been hovering at around 15%.

Owing to war-related sanctions on civil aviation, Russians cannot book flights to many of their favourite destinations in the West, so they are instead booking trips to the Middle East and Asia. Based on analysis of flight bookings made between 24th February (the start of the invasion), and 27th April, the latest data reveals that the top five destinations for travel between May and August, in order of resilience, are Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and the UAE.

Bookings to Sri Lanka are currently 85% ahead of pre-pandemic levels, with the Maldives 1% behind, Kyrgyzstan 11% behind, Turkey 36% behind, and the UAE 49% behind. However, Sri Lanka’s position at the head of the list is not a true reflection of the island’s attractiveness as a destination. Instead, it is a consequence of terrorist bombings, which scared away visitors in 2019, the pre-pandemic benchmark year.

Further analysis of the recent tickets booked to Turkey and the UAE suggests that a very substantial proportion are affluent Russians going on holiday. This is because the number of seats sold in premium cabins has tripled, compared to 2019, and the average trip duration for premium travellers is 12 nights in Turkey, and 7 nights in the UAE.

Changes to flight schedules, following the onset of Russian hostilities in Ukraine, have been as follows:

  • 24th February: Airspace in southern Russia was closed and Aeroflot was banned from flying to the UK
  • 25th February: Russia banned British airlines from its airspace
  • 27th February: The EU closed its airspace to Russian planes
  • 1st March: The US banned Russian flights from entering its airspace
  • 5th March: Russian airlines (Aeroflot, Ural Airlines, Azur Air and Nordwind Airlines and others) suspended international flights
  • 25th March: Rosaviatsiya, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, extended a ban on flight operations at 11 airports in southern and central parts of Russia
  • 25th March: Vietnam Airlines suspended regular flights to Russia
  • 14th April: AirBaltic stopped flights to Russia – but will return to Ukraine ASAP
  • 22nd April: EgyptAir resumed daily direct flights between Cairo and Moscow

The war with Ukraine, and the consequent sanctions on flying, have effectively caused Russia’s outbound tourism market to dry up. Those people who are still flying comprise a small, affluent niche, who are forced to holiday in Asia and the Middle East rather than in Europe, which is their favourite destination in normal times.

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