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3 questions for: Eric Seiler

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St Petersburg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. How has the tourism sector developed in St Petersburg in recent years?

St Petersburg has always been a popular touristic destination, thanks to its rich history and culture. The 2014/2015 crisis, that affected the local currency, made the destination much more affordable and we experienced steep tourist growth from 2016 - mainly from Asia but also from European countries as well as South America and Israel. At that time, due to political and security reasons, Russians were not able to travel to Turkey and Egypt which were traditionally the most popular outbound destinations. This led to a large increase in local tourism, which gave Russians the opportunity to discover their own country. St Petersburg was, of course, on the top of the list due to the city’s heritage.

Moreover, the successful organization of the Olympics in Sochi and the Football World Cup was an eye opener for the rest of the world. People discovered magnificent landscapes, a rich heritage and friendly people – not as portrayed by the press! For a couple of years now the city of St Petersburg has been experiencing year-on-year double-digit tourist growth. I am confident that it is only a start as the government has defined tourism as a strategic priority for the country.  

Russia has recently simplified visa requirements. What effect do you expect this to have on St Petersburg as a tourist destination and for business travellers? 

Transportation and visas are key ingredients for attracting tourists. Simplified visas were already implemented a couple of years ago for specific nationalities like China and the country has been experiencing steady growth from these feeder markets.The Russian visa application was a very lengthy and costly process, which definitively blocked people from last minute business trips or weekend getaways, especially knowing that the trend is moving towards short-notice bookings. Expoforum, the main congress centre of the city, has been lobbying towards a free visa regime for years, as this will further attract large congresses to the destination. So I am confident that E-visas will help, but at this stage it is difficult to estimate the scale. The St Petersburg Pulkovo airport is now waiting for the “Open sky 7” accreditation, which will attract foreign airlines, especially low-cost airlines. Several major European low-cost airlines have already applied for new routes and I believe that this, combined with E-visas, will be a huge boost for St Petersburg as a destination.More than 15,000 people have already applied for E-Visas since 1 October 2019. However, almost 4% of the passengers were not allowed to enter the country due to mistakes on their visas. This is a very serious issue that harms the country’s reputation and I hope that the government will take all the necessary measures to find solutions.  

What are your three most valuable insider-tips for anyone visiting St Petersburg on a business trip? 

Trends clearly show us that business travellers do not only want to work during business trips but also want to combine it with leisure. In the trade we call this “bleisure”.  St Petersburg has much to offer, from beautiful cathedrals to some of the best opera houses in the world. Every traveller will find something to meet his/her interests, even with little time. Russians are very proud of their country and they will be glad to show you their city. The food scene in St Petersburg is amazing and has lots of talented chefs. This is why I always advise travellers to taste the Russian traditional cuisine.  Russians love great food - a great opportunity to discover the food culture while doing business.If you have various meetings in the city, be sure to rent a car with a driver. Prices are quite reasonable and I would not advise a novice to drive here! You must experience the metro which, in my opinion, is in a class with Moscow’s subway. Last but not least, English is not spoken everywhere in St Petersburg, so it would be good to learn a few Russian phrases. This will gain you much appreciation from the locals and can also help to break the ice.

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