Saint Petersburg as a tourist capital of RUSSIA
With about 12 percent of St. Petersburg’s working population occupied in the city’s tourism industry, which brought 115 billion rubles ($3.6 billion) into the city’s budget last year, City Hall is attempting to overcome remaining obstacles and develop the industry further. More than 320 cruise ships brought last year to St Petersburg 800 000 some passengers. St Petersburg shore excursions and city tours are widely offered here. More than 40 000 St Petersburg guides are offering their services to city visitors during tourism season.
According to the UN, the tourism sector is snapping on the heels of the energy and military-industrial spheres in terms of the most profitable and fast-developing sectors of the global economy, and St. Petersburg is doing its best to catch up, say representatives of the northwest branch of the Russian Tourism Industry Union.
To be labeled a tourism capital, a city has to have more people coming in than people permanently living in the city. There are currently about 5 million residents in St. Petersburg, and about 5.5 million people visited the city in 2014. “Paris, for instance, welcomes 16 times more visitors than its current population, and certainly can be called a tourist capital,” said Tatyana Gavrilova, director of the northwest branch of the Russian Tourism Industry Union. “At this rate, St. Petersburg is still just a tourist destination, but until last year even Moscow couldn’t compete with us,” she said.
According to TripAdvisor.com travel website, St. Petersburg is seventh on the list of the 25 most visited places in Europe, and 20th in the global rankings. Yet despite these encouraging statistics, tourism in the city continues to see plenty of room for improvement.
One of the most pressing issues is transport. According to data gathered by the city’s Committee for Incoming Tourism, transport is the second biggest obstacle to the development of tourism in St. Petersburg after global political and economic instability. “The current state of Pulkovo Airport means that St. Petersburg cannot be called a tourism capital,” said Gavrilova. “As for the roads, the possibility of allowing tourist transport to drive in the lanes reserved for public transport is being discussed,” she added. Before this summer, 40 parking spaces for tourist transport were allocated and marked with signs in agreement with the Committee for Transport and Transit Policy. “We thought we were prepared for the season, but over the course of this summer, some of the signs have disappeared, for example at the parking space near Galeria shopping mall,” said Gavrilova.
Another problem identified by the Tourism Industry Union is a lack of new programs in the sphere of cultural entertainment for tourists. “People who visit St. Petersburg for the first time are always satisfied with the program, but those who come here for a second time want something new,” said Gavrilova. “Once we offered one tourist group a choice: Either go to Peterhof — the summer residence of the Russian royal family — or visit the KGB museum. Seventy percent chose the KGB museum.” While the tourism union is also examining ways of keeping cultural programs on offer innovative and appealing to young people, senior travelers make up about 70 percent of all foreign visitors to St. Petersburg, according to statistics.
Another topical issue is how the structure of incoming tourism is changing from large organized tour groups to individual tourists, with the Internet becoming both a major source of tourist information and a sales platform. Many individual programs are offered by hotels, half of whose profits, according to experts, are generated by accommodation costs, while the other half is accounted for by additional services such as excursions and theater tickets. But the city’s age-old tourism problem remains: There are about 400 four- and five-star hotels in St. Petersburg, and not enough economy class accommodation facilities.
The city is also focusing on domestic tourism, which currently accounts for about half of the total volume of incoming tourists. The Discover Your Own Country project consists of an exchange of social advertisements between Russian cities in order to attract domestic tourists.
Development is also expected in the sphere of yacht and boat tourism. A law allowing small, non-commercial foreign vessels to enter Russian waterways was passed in 2008, but rules governing this sphere were only established in May of this year. “It is a very promising sector; yacht clubs have been built and certain areas of water for small-sized vessel traffic have been endorsed,” said Gavrilova.
The city also plans to introduce more campsites on the outskirts of the city, following in the wake of the Baltic Parking campsite, which opened near the Konstantinovsky Palace in the suburb of Strelna in May 2015.
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