PHOTO: St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow. (Photo via Flickr/Greg Schechter)
Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar USA, said his crystal ball is “more than a little opaque these days,” but once demand expresses itself in the marketplace, it is easy to follow.
“We have the ability to align our capacities with the demand and we see the demand very quickly,” he said. “It’s amazing, from day one of each new launch year you see the trend. You don't know what it’s going to be, but you see it and you start adjusting to it. You capitalize on it.”
And though he certainly would not have expected it, one of Trafalgar’s hottest destinations right now is Russia.
“Russia is selling like hotcakes,” said Wiseman. “It goes to show, first, you can’t predict what is going to happen. Secondly, any news is good news. There has been so much talk about Russia everyone is opening the brochure and going to the Russia pages and going, ‘What is this place? What’s this about?’ And they’re booking trips.”
Trafalgar is not the only tour operator experiencing a surge in demand for Russia.
“Our Russia sales are up 38 percent compared to this time last year,” said Vanessa Parrish, channel marketing manager for the Globus family of brands. “While Europe overall is up as well, Russia and the Baltics are up much more significantly.”
Tauck’s 14-day “Russian Glories, Baltic Treasures” itinerary spends seven nights in St. Petersburg and Moscow, and according to Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president of Tauck Land Journeys, “Demand for it has been very robust this year. Bookings are actually up in the strong double-digits percentage-wise over where they were a year ago, and people are continuing to book.”
Abercrombie & Kent reports the same thing.
“Russia is absolutely on fire for us,” said Phil Otterson, president of Abercrombie & Kent. “As a destination overall [across all categories of travel], business has more than doubled from 2016, which was up double-digits over 2015. Without question, Russia is a significant growth leader in the Europe region with pent-up demand materializing in much higher sales.”
Philip Capelli, president of Insight Vacations USA, is seeing “nice growth to Russia in 2017. Our Easy Pace Russia program and our Northern Capitals and Russia program are the leaders for 2017.”
Alexander + Roberts, the company that pioneered travel to Russia as General Tours back in the ‘50s during America’s Red Scare, has also seen a spike.
“January was slow but in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a big uptick,” said Scott Avera, vice president for product development. “Last year was fairly flat, but now we are seeing an upturn in traffic. It’s mostly in our private and custom travel.”
However, the trend is not universal. Isramworld’s clientele seems to be shying away from Russia at the present time, preferring other destinations.
“We continue to have interest in Russia, a destination we have been serving for over 25 years,” said Richard Krieger, president of IsramWorld. “But there is no question that since the end of 2016 that interest is waning. Our team reports that travelers that began their original inquiry regarding traveling to Russia are still traveling, but approximately 25 percent have moved to alternative destinations. We see an upward trend in travel to the Baltic region, with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania topping the list and a marked increase in bookings to Austria, Switzerland and Germany.”
A sign of the times? The motto of the present day could be “Go figure.” Demand for Russia going through the roof? Counter-intuitive?
“It is,” said Wiseman. “It really is. It just goes to show, with people talking about it—you talk up a destination and when news is not specifically bad towards travel, it actually causes people to do it. What the thinking is, I can't explain. I’d need another psychology degree on that one. But hey, we’re grateful. We can follow the demand.”